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Librarians Know Why it’s Important to Preserve Digital Resources

Librarians and knowledge managers get that information comes in all types of formats. They understand that information has been shared using the technology of the time, be it orally, handwritten or printed. While older ways of recording knowledge are still utilized and undergoing preservation, the bulk of current information is now created in digital format. Being digital does not mean that data is automatically preserved. Librarians and Knowledge Managers get that as well!

Cultural and Economic Importance

Our cultural and economic heritage relies on the protection of information. Previously storytelling, handwritten and printed books held our collective knowledge. Saving what we have learned, whether a minute ago or ten thousand years ago is the key to understanding our continually evolving cultural and economic environment.

Much has been lost over time. Wars, natural disasters, or disinterest, have all contributed to the loss. A focus on saving and preserving as much information as possible, both from the past and from now on, will minimize future loss.

It’s Digital Now

Much newly learned information and many created works are now produced digitally. It continues the tradition of informing and educating us.

Without preservation policies for digital information, like there is for non-digital, vast amounts of such data will be lost. Moreover, just because non-digital resources are increasingly digitized doesn’t mean it will not need preservation measures!

Sources of Digital Information

Governments, business, and commerce, now create and rely on information in digital format. Libraries and archival institutions are guardians of information digital or otherwise. Preservation of knowledge in all its guises is vital to our wellbeing.

The Digital Preservation Coalition identifies sources of digital information worth saving. They include:

  • Texts and images
  • Spreadsheets and charts
  • Movies, games and music
  • Web content and social media

Understanding the Need to Preserve Information

Even non-librarians see the need to preserve “old” resources. As we know, preserving valuable knowledge held in deteriorating material is well underway. Policies and projects were established to ensure the preservation of that significant information.

Information is the business of librarians and knowledge centre managers. They understand the need to preserve it no matter what the format. Do people, other than librarians and archivists, understand the need to safeguard digital information? Not so many.

What if Librarians (and Archivists) Don’t Preserve Digital Resources

Librarians are aware some people hold the view that digital stuff will always exist as it is, right? No, not right! Here are three fundamental reasons to preserve digital data:

  • They have a shorter life span than the earlier types of formats. Just because the information is born digital (or digitized as a step in preserving information in old formats) does not mean that digital format will last forever.
  • Current formats will be replaced by new formats much faster than digital technology replaced printing! New does not guarantee backward compatibility.
  • Information on organizational websites is regularly updated resulting in the loss of information.  Websites that include digital information “disappear”.  A recent article identified that there is little left of the early internet and the information contained therein.

Authenticity

Storage of digital output in its original form maintains the integrity of the information. It is easy to change digital text, graphs, and pictures.

Ensuring a secure digital copy exists prevents it from being altered, “faked” or when possible, destroyed.

Digital Preservation Efforts

Many countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have all considered ways to implement safe preservation and storage options for digital information in the future

In Australia, for example, the National Archives has taken on the job of preserving digital records and providing access to them. The four main objectives will be:

  • Preserving data that’s stored in an outdated format
  • Saving data on the latest hardware or media available
  • Preventing alteration of data
  • Ensuring complete capture of data

In the U.K. and the U.S., these standards will be also be followed. Secure storage of data is also an important goal. The U.K. plan, for example, includes making at least two copies of each record for the National Archives, while in the U.S. the Library of Congress follows the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines. The guidelines currently apply to 20 federal government departments.

Librarians the world over know why there is a need to preserve digital resources. Convincing the holders of the purse strings and the populace of its importance will always be the battle librarians are prepared to fight.

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