This week I read Cohen and Rosenzweig, Digital History: Chapter 6 “Collecting History Online”, and Christopher J. Prom, “Reimagining Academic Archives” in Hacking the Academy. Since in my previous blogs I have talked about designing and design process and principles that Cohn and Rosenzweig mention in their book, I would like to focus on Prom’s discussion. He raises some very legitimate questions about preserving history in the digital age, “…,what types of organizations are best placed to serve as the long-term, trusted custodian of authentic, verifiable, and accurate electronic records?” or “Why have most archives failed to effectively address electronic records issues? “.
Digital preservation aims to ensure that a digital collection remains usable, regardless of the inevitable changes in technology the future will bring. Without the appropriate preservation methods in place a digital collection can easily become inaccessible and so useless in just a few years. Digital data is under consistent threat of loss due to, the data file type used, the media that the data is saved on, and the hardware and software systems needed to read the digital data, and also the changes to organizational management and culture, as well as financial pressures and changes of financial priority. It can be argued that digital media is not as durable and reliable as some analogue media. All digital media can and will vanish over time leading to loss of information. As Cohn and Rosenzweig mention in their book about the September 11 Digital Archive, “Through even swifter action, the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, WebArchivist.org, and the Pew Internet and American Life Project were able to save thousands of online media portrayals of that day’s events. Had they decided months later to save these web pages, instead of within mere hours, many already would have vanished into the digital ether.”
So I think the protection and long-term preservation of a digital project needs to be considered even before digitization begins. As it was discussed in my previous blog Designing History III: Plan of Attack a well thought plan in designing history is a must. As a result decisions made at the earliest stages of a project can and will have an impact on the effectiveness of the whole digital preservation strategy. It is particularly important that digitization projects are fully documented as they progress. Full documentation of technical solutions and project delivery will give those undertaking the preservation strategy an understanding of how the project was conceived, developed and produced. Design process should be such that it guarantees the collection’s survival through technological changes, and ensures its continued accessibility and usability.