The Digital Future: A Look Ahead: Information Management Professionals Will Find New Challenges, Strategies, and Approaches in Store with Digital Preservation. (Tech Trends)

By Hunter, Greg S. | Information Management, January-February 2002 | Go to article overview

The Digital Future: A Look Ahead: Information Management Professionals Will Find New Challenges, Strategies, and Approaches in Store with Digital Preservation. (Tech Trends)


Hunter, Greg S., Information Management


At the Core

This article:

* Examines the `three critical aspects of digital preservation

* Discusses the various approaches to preserving information integrity over time

* Looks at three strategies for a short- or long-term implementation plan

Organizations will increasingly create and receive information in digital form in the 21st century. Indeed, digital preservation will be one of the major challenges facing information managers in the coming years. Information professionals of all experience levels will be expected to steer their organizations through the dangerous digital shoals ahead.

Meeting the digital preservation challenge will involve understanding and addressing issues in three areas: the preservation challenge, preservation approaches, and implementation strategies.

The Preservation Challenge

Part of the challenge with digital preservation is recognizing the full breadth of the tasks facing information managers. In his white paper "Long-term Intellectual Preservation," Peter S. Graham defined three critical aspects of digital preservation:

* Medium preservation: preserving the physical media on which the electronic records reside

* Technology preservation: updating technologies from old to new as they become available

* Intellectual preservation: ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the information as originally recorded. This involves three kinds of change: accidental change, intentional change that is well meant, and intentional change that is not well meant (fraud).

Intellectual preservation is, perhaps, the most unfamiliar area. With information on paper, the authenticity and the integrity of the information, once established at the time of transfer, is seldom modified in the course of preservation custody. Digital records, however, require much greater diligence on this score.

According to Jeff Rothenberg in Avoiding Technological Quicksand: Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation, digital documents require more diligence because they possess a "unique collection of core digital attributes" that must be retained. These attributes include the ability to be copied perfectly, be accessed without geographic constraint, be disseminated at virtually no incremental cost, and remain machine-readable in all phases of their creation and distribution. In addition, documents that are "born digital" tend to be dynamic, hyperlinked, and interactive -- additional attributes that may need to be preserved.

Preserving the intellectual integrity, in fact, may prove to be more difficult than preserving the physical components. This is because in the digital world, there are five factors that determine information integrity:

* Content: the intellectual substance found in the information objects

* Fixity: The content must be fixed as a discrete object in order to be a record. If a digital object is subject to change without notice, then its integrity may be compromised.

* Reference: For a digital object to maintain its integrity, one must be able to locate it definitively and reliably among other objects over time.

* Provenance: The integrity of an information object is partly embedded in tracing its source.

* Context: Digital objects interact with other elements in the wider digital environment.

Preservation Approaches

Over the last few years, information management professionals have developed a number of approaches to preserving information integrity over time: analog storage, policy formation, standard formats, computer museums, conversion and migration, emulation, and persistent digital archives.

As organizations continue to transition to digital records, they often opt for analog storage: printing a "record copy" on paper or microfilm and entering this copy into an existing recordkeeping system. …

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