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Guidelines for Preservation

See Also: Resources for Additional Information

As an institution founded to collect, preserve, and make accessible materials documenting our cultural heritage, the Bancroft Library faces unique challenges when those cultural materials are stored in electronic form. Technologica obsolescence, media degradation, proprietary formats, software ownership issues, and dependence on aging hardware present obstacles to digital preservation. Fortunately, the Bancroft Library is taking measures to address the difficulties associated with digital preservation. We can ensure long-term access to digital files in our collection and we are developing methods to do so.

Our plan to preserve digital materials is based on current international digital preservation techniques. These methods are based on the principles of open-source software, data documentation, rights management, archival authenticity, controlled access, and an institutional commitment to preservation. Due to the technical expertise and infrastructure required to preserve digital materials, the best place to preserve fragile digital materials is at the institutional level in a trusted digital repository.

While, the Bancroft Library is investing in resources to preserve the electronic files within its collections, it cannot preserve materials still in individual hands. Because many years may pass between an author's creation of a digital manuscript and its arrival at an institutional repository, we encourage authors to take action to preserve their digital files. The following is a list of suggestions for authors who would like to begin the process of digital preservation.

  • Record as much information as possible. All digital preservation strategies include specific ways to record as much information about the original file as possible. Information about the electronic file is called "metadata" and includes author, file name, creation software and version, creation date, modification date, subject, size, and any additional pertinent information. You can begin to record this creation metadata externally in tables (e.g., Excel files), or internally in the files themselves (e.g., the "Properties" field of Microsoft Word files). Once a preservation effort is underway, it is vital to record all data about file modifications as well.

  • Organize versions of files. To prepare files for eventual accession into an archive and use by researchers, identify and order versions of digital manuscript material. It is often difficult for archivists to arrange digital manuscripts other than by creation date, but authors have the first-hand knowledge required to identify and arrange versions of their works.

  • Retain original physical media. Never dispose of physical media and never copy over original bit streams. Even if files are unreadable today, new technology may enable archivists to view "unreadable" files in the near future.

  • Migrate files to new software and hardware. The easiest way to increase the longevity of digital material is migration, or the transfer of materials from one hardware and software configuration to the next generation of hardware and/or software. Files stored on 5.5" or 3.5" floppy disks should be transferred to a hard drive and a back-up. Migrate files written in older software to newer versions of open-source or standard software. It is desirable to retain at least two versions of migrated digital files: one in its original software format (this is the "original" bit stream) and one in a more current software format. If you purchase a new computer, migrate files from the old hard drive to the new one. Migration to a CD is not an effective solution as the life of a CD is rather short.

  • Avoid specialized software.Migration can be hindered if the original files were not saved in a standard format. Although non-proprietary formats are the best options for saving digital files (e.g., ASCII or Rich-Text Format (RTF)), Microsoft Office products also serve as de-facto standards due to their prevalence. For images, we recommend using file standards such as Tag Image File Formats (TIFF) or Portable Network Graphics (PNG) files.

  • Never compress or encode your data.Compression and encoding provide one more obstacle to preserving electronic material. Electronic material should be as transparent as possible to facilitate preservation. Compression and encoding software prevents others from readings your data, including archivists.

  • Archive emails.The most desirable method to archive email is to export all messages into a non- proprietary text or table format. The easiest method to archive email is to take advantage of the "archive" function of most email programs. Microsoft Outlook, for example, archives messages in a .pst file which can be converted to a non-proprietary format using conversion software. Strategies for email preservation are still being developed.

  • Commit to digital preservation.Digital preservation is an active, ongoing process. A great deal of effort and knowledge is required to record metadata, resurrect files, decode ancient formats, migrate files, convert files, document the preservation process, and maintain original bit streams and migrated files. The Bancroft Library is dedicated to digital preservation and is investing resources in technology, training, storage, and maintenance as part of its commitment to preserve the cultural materials in our care.

Resources for Additional Information


For a general overview of issues in digital preservation, this article is a great start. Rothenberg breaks down technical jargon into palatable bits. This article is a bit dated, but the general issues he discusses are still relevant.

ROTHENBERG, J. "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents."
Scientific American 272, 1 (1995). <>. (updated in 1999)

A paper presented to the staff of the National Library of Australia broadly discusses issues of digital preservation from an archival perspective.

Woodyard, Deborah. "Data Recovery and Providing Access to Digital
Manuscripts" Paper presented at the Information Online 2001 Conference, Sydney,Australia January 16-18, 2001. <>.

Cultural aspects of preserving the digital object are discussed in this article by one of the faculty members of the University of Texas at Austin's School of Informaion.

Galloway, Patricia. "Preservation of Digital Objects." Annual Review
of Information Science and Technology. v. 38 (2004).


This website, hosted by the National Library of Australia, is a great clearinghouse for international efforts in digital preservation. A section of this website discusses preservation by medium, including project reports on email preservation

National Library of Australia. Preserving Access to Digital
Information (PADI)

An informative interactive tutorial for digital preservation is available from the Cornell University Library. The tutorial includes a brief timeline of major digital preservation initiatives and events.

Cornell University Library. Digital Preservation Management:
Instituting Short-term Strategies for Long-term Problems.

The Bancroft Library uses the California Digtal Library as its trusted digital repository. More information is available about the Digital Preservation Repository at this website.


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