This year the first ever International Digital Preservation Day – 30 November 2017, will be celebrated around the world; a celebration of collections preserved, access maintained, and understanding fostered by preserving digital materials.
Digital Preservation Coalition has organised this initiative, aiming both to celebrate existing progress, and to highlight how much there is still to do. IFLA wants to use International Digital Preservation Day to raise awareness of the challenges libraries face in preserving digital heritage, and in ensuring that it remains accessible in the future. This includes issues such as policies, storage, and what Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, refers to as bit-rot – the masses of digital content that become unreadable as technology evolves.
Archives, libraries and other information institutions are well aware of these problems, but they cannot alone find all the solutions. A recent survey conducted under the UNESCO PERSIST initiative offered some ideas on what other action may be needed.
A global overview of digital preservation
Between September and December 2016, The Policy Working Group of the PERSIST project sent out invitations to respond to a survey on national/federal policies and strategies on preservation of digital heritage. IFLA supported this in disseminating the call. 48 respondents from 33 different countries answered, the majority being library or archive staff.
The purpose of the survey was to get a global overview of the existence and implementation of policies and strategies for preserving born-digital materials, and to assess the role that governments assume therein. The survey results have now been aggregated in a final report, and show some of the difficulties in digital heritage preservation – both legal and practical – that libraries are facing, as well as some very interesting cases.
A call for government action
77 % of the respondents reported that in their country there is no written, cross-cutting national or federal strategy. Though there are most often guidelines for archives and records preservation, and that some digital heritage is being preserved within the framework of traditional heritage policy, most strategies are typically organisational rather than national (although this includes institutions with an official national function). This makes it hard for the institutions to approach digital preservation, as the issue is not formalised in many preservation policies.
It proved to be difficult to reach policy makers or staff of governmental organisations in order to obtain their responses to the survey on policies and strategies on digital heritage preservation. A majority of respondents indeed wished that the government would play an active role in this field. 39 % indicated that their governments do not event promote the importance of having strategies for digital heritage preservation at a national level.
Digital preservation is too big of an issue for an individual institution to take upon itself. The Working Group of PERSIST concluded that the four main problems were:
• Lack of leadership
• Lack of knowledge
• Lack of funds
• Lack of consensus between domains/institutions
The report shows the need to advocate for preservation efforts and increased public awareness, as well as the need for common standards and ways to approach this issue.
The world seems to be losing its ability to record and preserve modern-day history. Libraries are simply asking for regulations that could fix this. Enhancing the sustainability of preservation of digital heritage is a shared responsibility of public and private parties. IFLA supports the dialogue among these parties in order to enhance the preservation of digital heritage.
For more, read the full report here: https://unescopersist.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/reportsurveypersistpoliciesstrategies-1-5.pdf.