Digital Archives: How and Why to Write Digital Preservation Policy

Margot Note

Margot Note

January 21, 2019

Most archives repositories find it a challenge to keep a balance between meeting the needs of their users, their administration, and their collections. The hands-on tasks involved in the daily management of ever-growing collections of digital information leave little time for conceptual planning of the digital preservation program.

However, institutions need to approach digital preservation holistically, rather than as a series of actions that fulfill the foundational requirements of stability and accessibility. Not only should institutions commit to creating and implementing digital preservation policies, but they need to understand that these actions are part of digital preservation in and of itself.

Why Digital Preservation Policy?

Much in the same way that policies drive physical archival collections, so too should digital preservation policies for effective digital preservation. Clear policies state the principles, values, and intentions of the digital preservation activities of an institution. The policy also notes how it is monitored, who is responsible, and when and how it is updated. It can withstand organizational transitions and staff changes.

A digital preservation policy indicates, both internally and externally, that the institution values digital preservation and states its commitment to digital records. Creating a policy helps embed digital preservation as a part of your workflow, instead of being something that will be done when there’s enough time. Good policies provide a high-level vision for the program and provide a roadmap to action.

Considerations for Digital Preservation Policy

In some cases, a policy that has a top-down approach is suitable. In others, consultation with key stakeholders may be a more effective way to begin developing a policy. Gathering needs and requirements from those most affected by the policy creates user buy-in and a stronger connection between the repository and its users.

Determine also how comprehensive you want the policy to be. Is it an additional series of tasks or is it a continuation of your obligations? Will your policy create a Trustworthy Digital Repository (TDR) with ISO 16363 certification?

You’ll also want to be technology-agnostic. State the goals of the policy without stating the technology used. The systems you use will always be changing; concentrate on the results you would like to achieve.

Major Areas of Focus in Digital Preservation Policies

No matter what the collecting areas of institutions, there are several significant areas in which the policies should be focused. Most importantly, the content of the archives is outlined, including its scope, kinds of digital materials, and file formats accepted. Define who your audience is. Consider both your internal and external audiences.

Metadata should also be included, considering who can access the metadata, what types are required, and which metadata schema are applied. Also worth noting are the quality requirements of the materials, privacy, and rights management. Access, use, and reuse of the digital objects should be addressed as well. The policy should also note the preservation, retention, and authenticity of the files. Lastly, policy about withdrawing digital materials is also needed.

Digital Preservation Policy Examples

The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) developed a Digital Preservation Policy Template ( that walks through several points to get you started. The template prompts users to examine and list their primary policy aims, risk assessment, needs, purpose, goals and objectives, projects, and organizational commitments, among other factors.

The MetaArchive Cooperative has also created a Preservation Policy Template to guide policy and planning ( The template suggests topics for discussion including scope, selection criteria, and guidance for content creation, integrity, and maintenance.

Strategies for Success

Digital preservation requires a policy that guides its management, access to reliable infrastructure, and investments in staff, software, and hardware. Digital preservation is cumulative. As more materials and formats are acquired, the resources needed to assure the collections’ survival grow. Shifts in technology, too, require research into and development of technology solutions. Creating a digital preservation policy helps your organization navigate the changing tides of contemporary archival practice.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note is an archivist and records manager who helps individuals and organizations harness their history. She writes for Lucidea, whose archives collections management solutions help with digital preservation . See also more of Margot’s recommendations for digital archives.

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