Records Toolkit

Archives New Zealand’s guidance on information and records management

Digital preservation pioneers needed now… talk to us about digital transfer

Posted by Archives New Zealand on 27 July 2017

Digital preservation


Recently there has been strong interest from the local IM community in checksums.  See our previous post on checksums. Inevitably, thinking about checksums takes us to the broader subject of digital preservation!  Something which Archives New Zealand is working through with public offices, even more so now our doors are officially open to digital transfers.

But first things first: there are many definitions of digital preservation out there, and this can lead to confusion when people talk about different things under the title of digital preservation.

Defining digital preservation

At Archives New Zealand, we like this ALA (American Library Association) definition of digital preservation as combining:

“policies, strategies and actions to ensure the accurate rendering of authenticated content over time, regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change.

Digital preservation applies to both born digital and reformatted content. Digital preservation policies document an organization’s commitment to preserve digital content for future use; specify file formats to be preserved and the level of preservation to be provided; and ensure compliance with standards and best practices for responsible stewardship of digital information. Digital preservation strategies and actions address content creation, integrity and maintenance.

Content creation includes:

  • clear and complete technical specifications

  • production of reliable master files

  • sufficient descriptive, administrative and structural metadata to ensure future access

  • detailed quality control of processes.

Content integrity includes:

  • documentation of all policies, strategies and procedures

  • use of persistent identifiers

  • recorded provenance and change history for all objects

  • verification mechanisms

  • attention to security requirements

  • routine audits.

  • Content maintenance includes:

  • a robust computing and networking infrastructure

  • storage and synchronization of files at multiple sites

  • continuous monitoring and management of files

  • programs for refreshing, migration and emulation

  • creation and testing of disaster prevention and recovery plans

  • periodic review and updating of policies and procedures.”

The three-legged stool

Basically, digital preservation is part of the bigger picture of the digital curation lifecycle, and addresses the issue of long-term maintenance of a digital object, its intellectual content, its dependency on hardware, software, and technology in general. 

The challenge is not so much in enabling the accession of and access to the content, but the work now – in the present – to enable the content to be understood later – in the future. 

However, digital preservation is not only about technology, quite the opposite actually. Nancy McGovern, digital preservation pioneer, developed the theory of the three-legged stool in 2010, and while it is now a bit dated, it is still relevant in the current New Zealand context. It describes the core components of “a fully implemented and viable preservation program [which] addresses organizational issues, technological concerns, and funding questions, balancing them like a three-legged stool.                      


Organisational Infrastructure

includes policies, procedures, practices, people—the elements that any programmatic area needs to thrive, but specialized to address digital preservation requirements. It addresses this key development question: What are the requirements and parameters for the organization's digital preservation program?

Technological Infrastructure

consists of the requisite equipment, software, hardware, a secure environment, and skills to establish and maintain the digital preservation program. It anticipates and responds wisely to changing technology. It addresses this key development question: How will the organization meet defined digital preservation requirements?

Resources Framework

addresses the requisite start-up, ongoing, and contingency funding to enable and sustain the digital preservation program. It addresses this key development question: How much resource will it take to develop and maintain the organization’s digital preservation program?” (Digital Preservation Management, Where to begin?)

Balancing the three-legged-stool across the New Zealand sector 

For more than half a decade, Archives New Zealand has been working on establishing a digital repository for central government digital records, and putting in place processes and procedures to guarantee their maintenance and accessibility overtime through robust digital preservation activities. After years of research and pilot born-digital transfers, we released two factsheets clarifying our Interim model and Digital transfer readiness characteristics, to encourage public offices to transfer their digital records to us. Remember, even though physical transfers are on hold, we are open for business if you are ready to transfer your digital records.

The components of our current model are as follow:

  • working closely with the public office for the preparation of the transfer

  • extracting feasibility and testing the potential transfer

  • if the testing is successful, a live transfer goes ahead

  • once completed, the records are accessible via Archway, unless restricted.

Overtime our digital holdings are monitored to guarantee ongoing integrity and accessibility of the object and its intellectual content, which enables us to refine our digital preservation processes and procedures. 

In the local authority space, ALGIM has been working on digital preservation guidance, releasing a factsheet (F5) and strategy (Foundation Module 7) in 2016. They are available (for those who have a login) through the ALGIM toolkit. While Archives New Zealand doesn’t have any direct mandate to accept digital records from local authorities, we have a mandate to work closely with local authorities to raise awareness of digital preservation.  It is important to work on it now rather than later.

 Get in touch and let’s start talking about how we can work together to build skills and capability across the sector.

 Stay tuned! This is the first in a series of blog posts about digital transfers and digital preservation. More will follow...

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