Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

Critical Factors for Digital Records Preservation

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

Critical Factors for Digital Records Preservation

Article excerpt


The increasing production of digital documents, mainly documents originally created in the digital environment, has threatened the human capacity of using these records as reliable information sources, due to the new challenge imposed by their preservation. As stated by our Spanish colleague Vasquez de Parga on UNESCO's 1998 World Panel on Communication and Information, digital preservation is probably "the greatest challenge facing the archive community throughout the world--the challenge of accepting its full responsibility for ensuring adequate archival processing of these new records and incorporating them fully into their countries' archival systems so that historical memory can be permanently preserved, administrative agencies can function properly and citizens' rights, based on the evidential and legal value of such records, can be protected".

While valuable studies have been undertaken in many countries to preserve digital records, as well as its challenging issues, preservation requirements and archival functions, an academic research has developed in the Information Science Post-Graduation Program at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais--UFMG (Brazil) investigated the computer environment of medium and large Brazilian public organizations, in order to identify factors that play a key role in ensuring the long term preservation of their digital records.

This paper presents an overview of the research, outlining the objectives and methodology, summarizing the conceptual analysis, and discussing its main findings.

Literature Review

The literature on preserving digital records deals with challenging issues, preservation requirements and archival functions. Challenging issues have been studied by a number of authors (Beagrie & Jones, 2002; Brand, 1999; Bullock, 1999; Conway, 1996; European Commission, Interchage of Data between Administrations [EC/IDA], 2001; Hedstrom, 1997/1998; International Council on Archives, Committee on Electronic Records [ICA/CER], 1997; Lusenet, 2002; National Library of Australia, 2003; Public Records Office [PRO], 1999; Rothenberg, 1999; Thibodeau, 2001; Watters & Garret, 1996). This literature allows grouping the challenging issues into the following categories:

I--Lack of evaluation policies. The impact caused by the definition of selection criteria is very crucial in the digital environment. The digital document which is not selected in the initial phases of its lifecycle, is likely to be lost or become useless in the future.

II--Lack of descriptive policies. The complex nature of technology demands a rather detailed descriptive approach, i.e. metadata to digital objects for maintenance. Metadata for both internal and external document elements became crucial.

III--Physical vulnerability. Hardware and storage media are inherently unstable and, without the appropriate installation and maintenance, they can deteriorate very quickly, even if they do not seem to be damaged externally.

IV--Logical vulnerability. The digital environment is sensitive to changes (some emerge from the management needs itself) which can compromise the integrity, authenticity, and the history of digital objects.

V--High technological obsolescence. The technology renewal cycle is short (3-5 years) as opposed to decades and centuries associated with the preservation of physical objects.

VI--High technological dependence. All digital objects require specific hardware and software to be accessed and each of these elements generally requires contract agreements, which are commonly difficult to negotiate.

VII--Difficulty in recruiting properly qualified staff. The technology involved in accessing digital objects requires a significant diversity of activities that can be performed by scarce specialists.

Another part of the preservation literature focuses on preservation requirements. …

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