Digital Preservation Policy

1. Introduction

1.1 Cheshire Archives and Local Studies service exists to collect, preserve and provide access to records relating to the history of the county of Cheshire and its inhabitants. While the bulk of these records exist in parchment and paper form, increasingly records are now created electronically and the service must find ways in which to preserve these records and make them accessible to future generations. At present, this digital material is at risk of being lost, owing to such factors as the rapid obsolescence of hardware, software and storage media, a lack of the resources and skills required to manage the preservation of such material and uncertainty about technical and infrastructural requirements. Best practice is developing quickly in the area of digital preservation and policies and procedures written now can only reflect current thinking and research. The service believes that, in the long term, a regional solution, bringing in expertise from the Higher Education sector, may be the preferred option, but in the meantime the service will seek work with colleagues from across the authorities to meet the challenges presented by digital preservation.

2. Purpose

2.1 The purpose of this digital preservation policy is to outline what we can hope to achieve in the way of preserving digital material and to clarify what depositors and other stakeholders can expect from the service in the way of digital preservation. It also explains what the service cannot do or guarantee at present with the resources, infrastructure and skills available to it.

3. Selection, appraisal and acquisition

The nature of the creation of digital material means that it is difficult to be certain that a deposited digital object is ‘the’ record and that no copy remains with the depositor which could subsequently be amended. This is fundamentally different from the creation and deposit of records in traditional formats and the service will need to develop procedures and policies which reflect this. New approaches to acquisition and appraisal must also be found: the service will need to be more proactive in influencing the creation of digital material and will need to specify, in consultation with users, those themes, subjects and activities it intends to document and then identify those individuals and organisation within that area whose records it would like to collect. The service will also be restricted in the file formats it can preserve and this in turn will influence its collection policy.

3.1 The service will appraise digital material and will develop new policies and practices for doing so, reflecting the quantity and nature of records.

3.2 The service will seek to work with depositors to encourage good practice on the creation and care of digital records and will produce written guidance.

3.3 Sufficient metadata (eg file name, software) about deposited digital material is required for identification, access and preservation purposes. The service cannot guarantee long-term preservation without it and will produce guidance for potential depositors.

3.4 The service cannot guarantee to preserve password-protected material unless the ability to access the material is provided.

3.5 The service will seek to establish the position with regard to rights over the digital material and will require permission to convert and/or migrate material for preservation purposes when necessary.

3.6 In certain circumstances it may be preferable for preservation purposes for the depositor to deposit hard copy versions of their records. The service can advise when this might be appropriate.

3.7 The service will seek to develop procedures for the capturing and preservation of websites as evidence of the activities of societies and organisations.

3.8 The service cannot return digital material to the creator/depositor once it has been ‘deposited’; this will be reflected in the agreements it negotiates with records creators/depositors.

3.9 Digital film archives require specific skills and storage requirements and the service will seek to deposit such material in the North West Film Archive.

4. Migration

4.1 Deposited digital material will be saved within its parent authority’s ICT infrastructure and migration will be managed within it. The service will ensure that its needs in this respect are understood and will take advice from the ICT service about preservation file formats.

4.2 Given uncertainty over likely future preservation formats and the time-consuming nature of the work involved in ongoing converting digital material, the service will generally keep deposited digital material in its native format (ie the format in which it was deposited).

4.3 Depositors will be encouraged to convert digital material to preferred formats prior to deposit.

5. Storage and maintenance

5.1 The service will record technical metadata to assist in long-term management of digital material and will seek advice from its parent authority’s ICT service about this.

5.2 The service will save the digital material in a read-only storage format on a server which is backed up nightly. It will also save the material onto [tape] for preservation purposes.

5.3 If digital material is deposited on CD or DVD, the files recorded on the CD or DVD will be treated as in 5.2. The original CD or DVD will be destroyed or returned to the depositor.

5.4 Checksums should be used periodically to check data integrity. The service will work with its parent authority’s ICT service to develop a procedure for doing so.

5.5 Deposited digital material will be afforded the same level of security as records created and kept by Cheshire West and Chester Council.

6. Access

6.1 The service will work towards online access to deposited digital material via its online catalogue. In the short term access to digital material will be via CD/DVD in the public searchroom.

6.2 Certain series of records will be copied to CD/DVD for access purposes by default; most digital material will be copied for access on demand.

6.3 Checksums should be employed before and after each ‘use’ of a digital object to ensure data integrity. The service will work with its parent authority’s ICT service to develop a procedure for doing so.

7. Standards

7.1 The service will produce a list of acceptable file formats and storage media for potential depositors, using current best practice as its guide.

7.2 When describing digital material international standards for cataloguing will still be applied.

7.3 When capturing technical metadata current international standards will be applied.

8. Disaster planning

8.1 The service will assess risks to digital material and build these into its disaster planning.

9. Monitoring and review

9.1 Best practice and technical developments are changing quickly in this field. This policy will therefore need to be reviewed annually.

Date last reviewed: October 2010