Logo world digital preservation dayWe’re constantly surrounded by digital material – tweets, photos, videos and much more – but stored information is surprisingly vulnerable and easy to lose, with community archives’ content particularly at risk.

World Digital Preservation Day is an annual celebration of efforts across the globe to secure and preserve our digital record. In this blog post, Garth Stewart, Head of Digital Records Unit at NRS, tells us about some of our recent work on digital preservation.

Digital preservation? What is that, I hear you cry?!

In technical terms, digital preservation is “the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary”.[1]

More simply, it means doing everything you need to do to ensure your important digital materials – emails, tweets, websites, videos and photographs – survive for as long as you need them, just like we store paper and parchment records in climate-controlled physical repositories for their preservation and access.

Getting started in digital preservation doesn’t have to be complicated. Good practice includes simple tasks like

  • Organising digital files sensibly
  • Naming files clearly and consistently
  • Deleting files no longer needed, and
  • Backing up files for longer-term preservation on a separate storage medium.

But just getting started is very important, because digital materials are surprisingly vulnerable to decay, destruction and loss.

Many things can go wrong with a digital file that can make it unreadable – you could lose the phone or camera it’s stored on; the software required to open it may become obsolete; computer hard drives or USB sticks can degrade and become unreadable; or, in cases where the file has been published online, the website or social media platform may go down – think of once popular sites like Myspace or Google+.

It’s also incredibly easy to create and copy digital files at scale, which makes their management that bit harder.

Garth 404

Example of http 404 error message on a website, which can often lead to digital materials becoming inaccessible.

Digital preservation is how we mitigate these risks. At NRS, we’re changing how we work to ensure we can preserve and provide access to this changing record. Our 2019 Digital Preservation Coalition’s ‘Bit List’ is one example of this change.

But digital preservation isn’t just about ‘big’ collections and ‘big’ institutions. Any community, network or group that collects and stores records of interest accrues records in digital form, from websites and PDFs to audio recordings and PowerPoints.

Any or all of these things may be worthy of long-term preservation, but due to the voluntary nature of many of these collecting initiatives, coupled with the risks outlined above, these collections are at risk.

This is why digital archives of community groups have been classified as ‘critically endangered’ in the 2019 Digital Preservation Coalition’s ‘Bit List’ of digital materials at danger of loss.

We are working with the Scottish Council on Archives to address this issue. SCA coordinated an initial community archives workshop which included digital preservation at NRS in February 2019, and you can find our slides from this event here.

The event proved so popular that we have since taken this ‘on the road’, visiting communities in Aberdeen, Inverness and Oban, with further workshops scheduled over winter and spring in Hawick, Perth and Stornoway.

It has been rewarding to work with colleagues from an amazingly diverse range of community groups including Aberdeen Women’s Alliance and Grampian Hospital Arts Trust; Dunadd Community Enterprise and the Digital Preservation Coalition.

Early feedback from participants has been highly positive, with one workshop poll indicating that audiences’ understanding of digital preservation was greatly improved. We hope further analysis will provide us with more ideas for the future.

Garth workshop 1

Garth workshop 2Images from recent Community Archives workshop in Oban, including snap of our very own Tim Gollins discussing how to sustain digital community archives.

It’s great to celebrate the success of these workshops on World Digital Preservation Day.

For more insight into what is happening elsewhere in the world, follow #WDPD2019 on social media and be inspired to secure and celebrate your own digital memories! For more general guidance on digital preservation, look no further than the website of the Digital Preservation Coalition.


[1] Definition taken from Glossary of Digital Preservation Handbook, 2nd edition, https://dpconline.org/handbook/, Digital Preservation Coalition © 2015.

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