Digital preservation update

Article dated: 28 June 2010

An important report on sustainable digital preservation and access has recently been published. It is pertinent as it takes an economic approach to the provision of long-term access to digital information, including research data, and complements the existing policy of technically oriented analyses of the digital preservation scene.acorns on oak tree

The report, entitled, Sustainable economics for a digital planet: Ensuring long-term access to digital information, produced by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, is particularly relevant to the future collections development policies of the UK Data Archive. Resources for digital curation activities will always be finite and, while the volume of data being created is increasing, the workflow efficiencies driven by technological advances and reduced hardware costs do not cover these potential additional costs. Different strategies for economic sustainability will need to be discussed and agreed among all our stakeholders, and this report will influence the debates which inform these strategies.

The report was launched in Washington in April 2010, and a UK launch was held at the Wellcome Trust Conference Centre in early May 2010. The launch day included a clear message of approval for the report from the UK Data Archive’s Matthew Woollard, who hoped that its recommendations would be studied carefully by all who will benefit from the long-term access to digital materials in order to gain a better understanding of who should be responsible for preservation and who should pay for it.

The co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, Brian Lavoie, is also the co-author with Neil Beagrie and Matthew Woollard of the JISC-funded Keeping research data safe 2 report, which has recently been published. The report follows its predecessor in reviewing and enhancing the original activity model for digital preservation activities, and provides a detailed analysis of cost information of digital curation activities from four organisations including the UK Data Archive. The report also introduces an economically informed benefits framework designed to ensure continued access to research data and is illustrated by a detailed case study from the UK Data Archive.

Overall the report notes that the archiving activities (specifically defined as archival storage and preservation planning and actions) consistently form a very small proportion of the overall costs for national data centres and that these costs are significantly lower than costs relating to acquisitions or ingest, or to activities surrounding access. Consequently any cost efficiencies to be found in national data centres will arise predominantly from the development of tools to support data ingest or access. Increased data capture at the ingest stage, including more preservation-level metadata, can also reduce costs at all stages in the data lifecycle.