Digital preservation planning

An important aspect of digital continuity is digital preservation. Many records have retention periods longer than the life of the systems they are captured in. Digital preservation requires a proactive program to identify records at risk and take necessary action to ensure their ongoing viability.

Preserving digital and audiovisual information and records may require migration to new platforms and formats. Regular and planned migration helps avoid obsolescence and ensures information continues to be accessible and usable.

Digital records are subject to three potential forms of obsolescence:

  • The physical carrier of the record becomes obsolete - Standard media of the 1980s, such as 8 inch and 5¼ inch floppy disks, are no longer commercially available. Over time, current media such as CDs and DVDs will also become obsolete.
  • The hardware needed to access the record becomes obsolete - Both the drives needed to read the media and the computers required to operate them have become obsolete in our rapidly changing world. Most new computers have a usable life of only three to five years and are not fitted with floppy disk drives.
  • The software needed to access the record becomes obsolete - This includes either the software to read and write the record, the operating system to run the software, or both.

Preservation techniques which can minimise the risk of digital records becoming inaccessible include:

  • migrating digital records from older hardware and software to current configurations; and
  • converting digital records from their original data format to a standardised, long term preservation format.

Factors influencing which preservation strategy is best for your agency will include:

  • the technology you currently have, and are likely to acquire in the near future;
  • the most financially feasible option, based on a risk analysis and taking into account your agency's accountability obligations; and
  • the long term implications for the integrity of your records of any preservation processes adopted.

Further information

Preservation is just one aspect of managing digital information to ensure that it can be used in the way that is required for as long as required, and no longer. For more information on managing digital records, see our Digital Continuity Principles or contact the Agency Service Centre.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017