Related product Collections Management

Communicating the Value of Preservation - Digital Preservation Program

Ann Lindsey, Head of Conservation, The University of Chicago Library

Communicating the value of a digital program is straightforward. Most people can readily see the value that digitization provides in protecting original material, convenient access, and advanced searching and datamining capabilities. It can be more complicated to communicate the need for the framework that a robust digital program requires. A good framework can create an efficient workflow, enhance accessibility, and reduce the possibility of loss. A robust Digital Preservation Program incorporates the following:

  • Selection
  • Capture
  • Metadata
  • User Interface
  • Long Term Data Management

Selection. Not everything in a collection can or even should be digitized, choices must be made. One has to assess the strengths of the collection and the mission of the institution. User initiatives should be taken into account for a program to be relevant. Intellectual property rights and privacy concerns must be respected. Consortial agreements can reduce the possibility of duplication. Do you participate only in retrospective digitization or do you accept born-digital sources? If you accept born-digital sources, which formats? Once selection occurs, prioritization must take place. Which items take precedence? Who makes the decisions? A well thought out digital collection development policy is key to the selection of objects and sets up an efficient workflow.

Capture. Image capture involves several considerations including staff, space, and equipment. All of these considerations reflect the needs of the institution. What is the level of staff that should be committed? Should you incorporate outside vendors? What type or types of equipment will best suit your needs? Other things to consider are minimum standards which vary according to the type of object. Books, manuscripts, works of art on paper, and audio to name only a few, have different minimum capture standards. Even more considerations are naming conventions, organization of files, and quality control:

Metadata. All of the work that goes into selecting and capturing images is useless if it can’t be found. Metadata is critical in being able to describe and catalog digital objects. Some metadata is created by the hardware, but most of the metadata that is useful for catalogs, finding aids, and databases must be created by trained staff. The NISO website does a thorough job of explaining metadata objectives, standards, and principles:

User Interface. Deciding how the user will access digital objects is another very important piece of a digital program. Good design is not simple, even if the objective is simplicity. A good website can inform the user about who you are and how you see yourself in the larger community. In addition to the questions of usability and institutional branding, a website should, and depending on the institution, must be accessible to people with disabilities. The Web Accessibility Initiative is a very good source for information not only on laws and policies within the United States, but for much of the world.

Long Term Digital Management. This is the last item listed in the life of a digital object, but in reality long term storage should be decided on well in advance. Stable long term storage ensures that the immense amount of work that goes into a digital program will not be lost. If servers are to be used, regular upgrades in equipment and expanded storage needs are possible. There should be a plan for regular backups and replication. Perhaps cloud based options should be considered. The financial obligations for long term archiving of digital images can be substantial.

A robust Digital Preservation Program is labor intensive. It requires a commitment of staff, equipment, space, and funds. However, this effort can be richly rewarded by a successful and relevant program that meets the needs of the users.


Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS)

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)

National Information Standards Organization (NISO)A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections.

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Web Accessibility Laws and Policies.

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