Valuable scientific and cultural information assets are created, stored, managed, and accessed digitally, but the threat of losing them over the long term is high. Digital media are brittle and short lived. Hardware and software technology continues to evolve at a rapid rate. Changes in organizations and their cultural and financial priorities add risk to continued accessibility and long-term preservation of digital assets. Unlike print-based materials, digital assets cannot survive significant gaps in preservation care.
Digital repositories are computer systems that ingest, store, manage, preserve, and provide access to digital content for the long-term. This requires them to go beyond simple file or bitstream preservation. They must focus on preserving the information and not just the current file-based representation of this information. It is the actual information content of a document, data-set, or sound or video recording that should be preserved, not the Microsoft Word file, the Excel spreadsheet, or the QuickTime movie. The latter represent the information content in a specific file format that will become obsolete in the future.
Preservation policies define how to manage digital assets in a repository to avert the risk of content loss. They specify, amongst other things, data storage requirements, preservation actions, and responsibilities. A preservation policy specifies digital preservation goals to ensure that:
- digital content is within the physical control of the repository;
- digital content can be uniquely and persistently identified and retrieved in the future;
- all information is available so that digital content can be understood by its designated user community;
- significant characteristics of the digital assets are preserved even as data carriers or physical representations change;
- physical media are cared for;
- digital objects remain renderable or executable;
- digital objects remain whole and unimpaired and that it is clear how all the parts relate to each other; and
- digital objects are what they purport to be.
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