Crafting a digital preservation policy
The following took place as a class project for a LBSC784 Digital Preservation class at the University of Maryland, Fall 2016.
To meet the requirments of this course, I met with and corresponded with the Archivist for a small library at the National Federation of the Blind. Based on the NFB’s unique circumstances, and guided by classroom discussion and readings, I wrote a proposal for a digital preservation policy for this institution.
I was not always the best correspondent with the patient archivist, Anna Kresmer, amidst a busy semester and work schedule. However, I was able to utilize the knowledge learned in my class to create a useful proposal. Whether or not it was directly beneficial to the NFB, my project at least had an immediate practical impact, as a classmate in the course went on to do a practicum at this library and assist in archival projects.
Prelude: Review of existing policies
The tenBroek Library of the National Federation of the Blind has a number of policies in place that are somewhat relevant to digital preservation, but does not have a formal policy directly bearing on the topic. The Library website includes several policy documents that provide contextual information, and the website would be an ideal place to eventually present a digital preservation policy to the public.
Existing Library policies that are already publicly available include:
- The Affiliate Guide for Submitting to the Archives provides advice on preferred document file formats, suggested file name conventions, and methods of submitting significant emails to the Library’s archives.
- A Collection Development Policy Statement that gives a general overview of the intellectual scope of the Library’s collection.
Archivist Anna Kresmer also provided some additional internal NFB policies for the purposes of this review:
- File storage guidelines from the NFB IT department. I was forwarded some useful snippets of this via email, including information about backup routines and procedures.
- Electronic records file plan for the NFB which was produced in collaboration with outside consultants. This document provides file naming conventions and suggested directory structures for staff members.
- A Records Management Program Staff Manual that was developed by Anna and acts a more detailed version of the Affiliate Guide on the website, but directed at internal NFB staff.
Proposed Digital Preservation Policy
The tenBroek Library’s primary mission is to serve the information needs of National Federation of the Blind members and researchers of nonmedical blindness. The Library’s digital collections play an essential role in that mission by facilitating access to critical content and enabling long-term preservation of that content. Digital preservation is a challenging but essential task undertaken on behalf of stakeholders in futures both near and distant.
The Library recognizes that digital preservation is a significant ongoing commitment, but one that can be scaled to available resources. To that end, this policy uses the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation as a model for gradual progress over time. Thus, the primary objective is to increase compliance with the NDSA Levels as resources become available. Additional objectives are to:
- Maintain verified copies of all digital materials in perpetuity unless explicitly deaccessioned.
- Promote preservation best practices at all phases of a digital curation lifecycle, with a new emphasis on early stages of digital asset acquisition.
- Increase collaboration with the NFB IT department on issues of network backups and digital storage.
- Develop Library in-house expertise on open-source software solutions for checking and verifying file fixity.
- Document digital preservation procedures including scope of holdings, backup procedures, and geographical location of backups.
The Library commits to carrying out the following activities:
- Incorporate all appropriate electronic materials into an integrated digital preservation system residing on a network server.
- Record file fixity at ingest (or verify fixity at ingest if it has already been recorded) using file or folder checksums.
- Verify file fixity of all accessible files on a quarterly basis.
- Maintain at least one backup copy of all files outside of the standard organizational data backup processes as insurance against accidental overwrites of local file modifications to backed up versions.
- Perform and maintain folder and file inventories.
- Develop descriptive metadata at appropriate (collection) levels.
- Reassess this policy at least every five years.
Responsibilities and internal collaboration
Digital preservation is a shared responsibility across every organization. At the tenBroek Library, the primary role is that of the Archivist, with collaboration from the Information Technology department.
The IT Department is responsible for:
- Backing up network content on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and monitoring network server for any drive deterioration.
- Maintaining network security and ensuring that the digital archives materials on the network are only accessible to the Archivist.
The IT Department and the Archivist are jointly responsible for:
- Backup to any cloud-based system for long-term archiving
All remaining responsibilities lie with the Archivist. While there are some desired behaviors by the affiliate chapters who contribute content, and the NFB staff members who submit institutional records, these contributors do not ultimately bear responsibility for digital preservation.
In some organizations, digital preservation is considered to be a “nice to have” feature rather than a necessity; this is in large part due to the significant challenges that digital preservation faces, including the following:
- Long-term costs: A commitment to digital preservation necessitates a corresponding financial commitment while also requiring some staff time on a regular basis.
- Access to electronic resources: Preservation of digital content does not guarantee access to that material. In the near term, access restrictions will be affected by copyright, privacy, and practical technological limitations. In the long term, there is some chance that electronic file formats or operating systems may become obsolete. Though this may be only a remote possibility, the Library commits only to preserving bitstream access to content.
- Scale: This proposed policy is based on current practices. If new resources were suddenly made available (for example via grant funding or development of an external partnership), the Library might need to simplify its operations. In terms of NDSA Levels, this might mean temporarily stepping backwards.