Center for Archival Resources On Legislatures (CAROL)
Digital preservation is an ongoing activity. It is important to understand what needs to be preserved, the best methods for preserving different types of digital materials, and how to support the authenticity of digital files over time.
Preservation of digital legislative content was a specific focus of the Minnesota NDIIPP project. Early on it was determined that with the wide variety of partner resources and individualized environments across the states, there was not a one-size-fits-all preservation solution that would meet the needs of all project partners. Instead of trying to find the 'best' preservation system, various solutions were tested and documented, allowing partners to educate themselves to make informed decisions. Testing and documenting various solutions in itself was valuable as often individual agencies do not have the resources available for performing such tests.
Partners were also very interested in the costs of digital preservation. Answering this question is not possible until an evaluation of current situation and needs has been done. To assist with this assessment, MHS team members produced a business case template that asks important questions that need to be addressed to understand needs and assist with determining actual preservation costs.
Government records are important for a number of reasons. They facilitate government business, demonstrate government accountability, and serve as evidence of government activities for current and future users. Although many types of government records have transitory value and are not saved for the long term, others, such as session laws, must be permanently retained because they are fundamental records with enduring value.
While all government records should be managed in such a way that they are trustworthy, the burden of maintaining authenticity over the long term is not a casual matter. Authenticity is a critical piece that must be considered when preserving records. An authentic record is one that is the genuine article, free from tampering (SAA Glossary). Authenticity, therefore, is inextricably linked to the record’s preservation and means of access: has it been maintained under controlled and documented conditions and is it provided by a secure means?
In the course of the NDIIPP project, the issue of authenticity came to the forefront as the project team grappled with issues of preservation and online dissemination of digital legislative records. More information can be found in the Authentication portion of this resource center.
Assessing Your Needs
To determine the best preservation solutions for your institution, you should look at your records and perform a needs assessment. A needs assessment answers the overarching questions of what do you have, what do you need to keep, and for how long. During the needs assessment you will also be able to identify vital and confidential records, determine if legal requirements pertain to any records, identify records that can be transferred to a records center or destroyed immediately, and review or set retention schedules based on your findings.
More information on conducting a needs assessment as well as a selection of specific questions aimed at helping you understand and assess your collection is provided in the document below.
Needs Assessment February 2012 (pdf)
Exploring the Options
The ability to preserve digital files is dependent upon a number of factors. These include overall policy framework; the file formats, metadata, and storage media being used; data security requirements; documentation; and staff skills and time. All of these factors, and more, affect how you approach digital preservation, while the value of your digital content determines what level of attention the content requires.
The Digital File Preservation Options grid lays out these issues as well possible responses in a "simple, better, best" format. The grid can be used to evaluate current practices as well as assisting with prioritizing resources to care for the records most at risk or with the most need.
Digital File Preservation Options grid February 2012 (pdf)
Components of Preservation
Digital preservation is multi-faceted. One must consider not only the digital content, but the digital media and associated metadata.
More information on each of these components, as well as information on methods of digital preservation such as replication, refreshing, fixity checking, migration and emulation, can be found here.
Developing a Preservation Plan
A preservation plan is a document that provides a framework to address an institution's overall preservation goals. The following paper provides an introduction to developing a preservation plan by pointing out resources and identifying common elements of successful preservation plans.
Developing a Preservation Plan Februrary 2012 (pdf)
Choosing a Preservation System
When determining what preservation model or system best suits your needs, consider the following factors: documentation, access and ownership issues, user interface, depositing material, managing records within a repository, access to and retrieval of files, preservation, and costs.
Preservation Factors to Consider February 2012 (pdf)
When looking at preservation solutions, it is important to understand that there are various levels of preservation activities. Once differences between the levels are understood, explore the various models others have used for preservation. Information on the levels of preservation systems and possible models to follow can be found here.
Determining the cost of digital preservation is very difficult. Costs will vary greatly with requirements, scale, file types, current environment, and the type of system developed or chosen. Performing a needs assessment and business case analysis will assist with your decision making.
The following section discusses business drivers for digital preservation and how a business case might assist with understanding preservation needs. Understanding these needs puts you one step closer to identifying actual costs. Others have worked with digital preservation cost models; links to their research is provided for more information.
Preservation System Tests
The Minnesota NDIIPP project tested three preservation systems directly and closely followed other related activities.
Systems MHS tested include Tessella's Safety Deposit Box and the California Digital Library's (CDL) preservation system (Merritt), and the Web Archiving Service (WAS), also part of the CDL.
The project team also followed the following other developments:
- Testing of the Washington State Digital Archives by the Tennessee State Library and Archives (a Minnesota NDIIPP project partner)
- The development of the Kansas Enterprise Electronic Preservation (KEEP) system; a repository for authenticated state documents
- The preservation repository evaluations being done by the Minnesota Digital Library.
More information on these tests can be found here.
Checksums for Fixity Checking
The following paper provides a background on checksums and summarizes five easily accessible programs that create and/or validate checksums.
- Checksum Programs Evaluation May 2012 (pdf)
The following reports document the evaluation in detail of the same five programs as described in the white paper above.
- Checksums for Windows May 2012 (pdf)
- ExactFile May 2012 (pdf)
- FSum Frontend June 2012 (pdf)
- FastSum May 2012 (pdf)
- File Checksum Integrity Verifier Utility May 2012 (pdf)
- HashMyFiles May 2012 (pdf)
To assist with determining the appropriate format, you can use format registries to learn about the properties and sustainability of formats. Note: More information can be found here.
- Sustainability of Digital Formats
- Unified Digital Formats Registry
- Conversion Software Registry (CSR)
White papers and resources created by the NDIIPP project team that are related to preservation issues and the topics on this page of the Resource Center can be found here.
The following are a few selected resources relating to the preservation issues discussed in this section of CAROL. A more extensive list of resources can be found here.
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June 12, 2012; links verified April 1, 2013.