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The Value of Digital Preservation

At this point in history, technology that we couldn’t even have imagined two decades ago is available to us for everyday usage. From smartphone to robots to virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the physical space is full of digital influence. The evolution of technology will become highly accelerated and change will be the norm. The fast paced transition from one technological format to the next brings with it the challenge of data preservation.

Preservation doesn’t come into mind until we are faced with data loss – either due to expiration of format or deletion of information. Each and everyone of us has been a character in a horror story about the inability to recover important information or data. We don’t realize the importance of keeping digital materials up-to-date until it’s too late.

As software programs and other technologies become obsolete, it can be difficult to use a digital object that exists in an older format. Another problem associated with digital preservation is media degradation. The very media that digital information is stored on was not always made to last, and can quickly degrade. Think of the moment when you wanted to watch a DVD and realized that the content wasn’t rendering properly.

Working mostly with museums, libraries and archives who have decided to store their data in a digital format – in order to unlock the great potential that digitization brings, I understand the crisis and the consequences that would negatively impact the organization should the data become lost.

Used by museums, libraries and archives, digital preservation has become an important component as we assure that digital information remains accessible and usable. In other words, digital preservation is a combination of strategies and actions that have the mission to actively safe keep digitally stored information. Digital preservation has a high significance for modern history, especially because most of the information is not stored in any type of hard copy.

Take the Imperial War Museum based in London, England. They are managing an impressive collection made of more than 33 million unique items, with over 23,000 hours of film material and hundreds of thousands of photographs. Imperial War Museum wanted a digital asset management system (DAMS) to manage their digital assets, and to be directly connected with the organisation’s collections management system, Adlib. AXIELL DAMS was created and implemented by having in mind the needs of both marketing and collections departments. Its mission is to ensure protection, preservation, and management of digital assets according to industry standards. DAMS improves access to digital assets for everyone, including staff and public.

Working with such a big collection, results were immediately visible and improved the user experience. Rosie Forrest, the manager of Collections Systems from Imperial War Museum shared insights about the experience of implementing DAMS:

“One of the things we’ve immediately noticed with our new DAMS is the speed at which we are able to work with it. For example, we’ve been able to process multiple terabytes of film material over the last month alone. To put that into context, in the previous months we were averaging about 0.3 terabytes of film material. That’s really exciting for us.”

Time has proven that digital preservation is necessary because digital information is facing several challenges such as storage medium obsolescence, storage failures or software obsolescence. Being ready for any changes that technology may bring our way is crucial for any organisation, especially for museums, libraries and archives which are managing legacy, history and culture. This type of data should always be protected.

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