Reservations about Preservation in Digital Mediums

Digital Preservation, when done right, stands to offer almost unlimited storage of digital and formerly-digital documents, websites, videos, objects, etc. If properly protected for the present and the future, digital collections offer the opportunity to not only to preserve objects but also display and make available these resources for wider audiences. “When done right,” however, is a lot to ask, especially with digital preservation practices still being developed and debated. Digital preservation in its current state presents just as many difficulties as opportunities.

For one, the transfer of analog records to digital is currently inaccurate, and depending on your stance may never be sufficient. While 3D modeling is becoming progressively cheaper and more accurate, many historians maintain that preservation of the original document or object will outclass the digital version regardless of quality. There are certain elements of an object – its physicality, dimensions, texture, coloration, etc. – which are not translated well onto digital platforms and which are not always but sometimes of use to historians and researchers, and the import of these features is not always immediately evident.

There also remains the issue of protecting digital collections, especially when it comes to authenticity and longevity. Without proper encryption, documents online can be fairly easy to manipulate or delete, which presents significant problems if the documents are not backed-up or stored properly.  Preservation is, in a perfect situation, meant to last for as long as humans can find use in the preserved object, document, etc. This is impossible, and so pains are taken to maintain the subject’s integrity for both the foreseeable future and beyond. With digital collections, if improperly maintained, files can become corrupted and information lost as a result. The destruction of physical storage (servers, external hard-drives, etc.) over time also threatens digital preservation as a viable preservation technique on its own.

There is also the matter of funding. Finding the money to hire employees willing to scan or transcribe documents, have the training necessary to operate special equipment for the digital recreation of 3D objects, etc. can be incredibly expensive, not to mention the acquisition of relevant technology. Digital preservation in this respect is coming closer to practicality, as the technology required to execute many of these projects and the storage space to contain large files is rapidly improving. However, for high-quality pictures and renders of objects the price remains relatively high, especially for smaller institutions or projects independent of a well-off institution with an investment in their history/archaeology programs.

There are efforts to make digital preservation more reliable. Through the proper maintenance and formatting of metadata and coding in these digital archives, especially making these formats interrelated and compatible for easy transferal and inspection of archives both at the coding and surface levels, subjects preserved digitally can be entered with minimal loss of relevant information and made acceptable to anyone with a knowledge of the format (ex. Dublin Core).