Preservation Policy 2021-2025

Policy document

National Archives of Australia Preservation Policy 2021-2025 (DOCX, 212KB)

1. Acknowledgment

The National Archives of Australia (National Archives) acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their continuing connection to Country, culture and community. Through considered practice, we commit to the preservation treatments and the handling and collection management processes that respect and uphold the rights and cultural obligations that are inherent in our collection, and that will ensure ongoing, appropriate access.

2. Purpose

This document presents a preservation policy for National Archives’ collection, covering all media and formats. The policy defines our preservation principles and practices for the period 2021-2025, and it provides context for the development of the organisation’s preservation strategies and plans. This policy replaces all previous preservation and digital preservation policies.

3. Policy statement

Through the ongoing preservation of our collection we will connect Australians with the nation's memory, their identity and history, by providing ongoing access to records of Australian Government decisions and actions.

4. Policy context

National Archives aims to be a world leading archive in this digital age. Our collection of Commonwealth records, acquired since Federation, provides essential evidence of Australian Government activities and decisions that shape our nation. The Archives Act 1983 prescribes our goals and responsibilities relating to the preservation and use of our collection. Our values relating to service excellence, leadership, innovation, responsibility and collaboration are expressed in The Archives Way and our Corporate Plan.

5. Audience

This policy will be used by our staff to: develop subsequent preservation-related strategies and plans; guide activities and decisions relating to the preservation of the collection; and, communicate National Archives’ preservation principles and values to external stakeholders. This policy may also be used by other government agencies and archival organisations to inform their preservation efforts.

6. The collection

Our collection comprises records created or received by the Australian Government that date primarily from Federation in 1901. These records provide evidence of government decisions and actions relating to functions such as: immigration, defence force service and policy, international relations, service records, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the environment, science and industry, security and intelligence, and the arts. The majority of the collection consists of paper-based records. We also have significant holdings of photographs, aerial film, audiovisual records, sound recordings and objects.

Records today are created digitally by default as outlined in the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy and further described in the Building Trust in the Public Record Policy. Records currently held by agencies may also be converted to digital formats prior to transfer.

We hold records in each state and territory. As a result, our preservation efforts will have a national focus. In addition, the Archives Act supports a distributed custody model. This provides for records to be retained by the controlling agency or their agent, as well as the transfer of records from National Archives to another party. To support this goal, we will provide clear guidance for the storage, access and protection of records in distributed custody, and we will establish and maintain a cycle of review and monitoring for these records.

7. Preservation challenges

This policy will drive the development of strategies and plans that will address our collection’s inherent preservation challenges. Many physical collection records are fragile and, even in good storage conditions all will deteriorate over time. This deterioration can accelerate when records are accessed and handled. The preservation of audiovisual, photographic and digital records faces additional challenges relating to:

  • technical obsolescence
  • the availability of systems that access or play records
  • legacy storage that holds unknown and inaccessible data
  • data integrity
  • loss and degradation
  • metadata and schema selection
  • skills retention and development.

In particular, there is broad agreement in the international archival community that it will become increasingly difficult to preserve audiovisual content stored on magnetic media formats after 2025 (Deadline 2025: the race to future-proof our audiovisual collection). Despite significant investment to future proof as much of this magnetic media content as possible prior to this deadline, it is likely that some of the content on these formats will be lost.

8. Guiding principles

The following principles will underpin all of our preservation activity:

Culturally aware and diverse

We will continue to ensure that our preservation prioritisation activity reflects a diverse range of cultures and perspectives. In particular, our activity will be guided by the principles outlined in Our Way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander protocols; the International Council on Archives’ ‘Tandanya – Adelaide Declaration’; and our Reconciliation Action Plan.


Our preservation decisions will be informed by a range of national and international ethical guidelines and requirements, including the:

We will: respect our collection’s unique character and significance, and its creators; respect the physical, historic, aesthetic and cultural integrity of each record; aim for the highest standards that are practical in all aspects of preservation; and, continue to share our knowledge and experience. In addition, some records in our collection contain content that may distress those who are exposed to them (i.e. vicarious trauma). We will: take steps to identify this content (e.g. culturally sensitive content); ensure that staff and users of the collection are aware of the content and risks, when they are known; recognise the emotional labour and additional workloads that may be required to manage these records; and, provide relevant staff with training and access to professional support services.


Our collection is a trusted source of authentic, reliable and complete evidence. This allows users of the collection to document and reveal history, and to foster the growth of knowledge. It also allows the Australian Public Service to ‘…make evidence-based decisions, provide sound advice, develop good policy and deliver services and programs effectively’ (Building trust in the public record: managing information and data for government and community). Our preservation efforts will continue to support this goal by implementing strategies that are fully documented and publicly available. We will also capture, retain and provide all of the data required to describe the content, context and provenance of collection records, whenever that data is available. We will capture and retain a full audit trail of all preservation actions performed on both physical and digital records. This will provide evidence that our records are authentic, that duplicates that have been made from these records are complete copies of the originals, and that records have been protected against unauthorised or accidental alteration. This activity includes the appropriate management of migrated and normalised digital records. The integrity of our digital collection will be further ensured through the fixity checking of digital records during transfer and in storage, and through the transfer of complete datasets and metadata, when it is appropriate to do so.

Our preservation policy, strategies and plans will be developed with input from Australian and international archival professionals.


In addition to prolonging the ongoing existence of our collection through the preservation activities referred to elsewhere in this policy, we also have effective protective security arrangements in place to safeguard official resources. We will continue to promote a protective security culture across all of our business, and will ensure that our preservation activities comply with our obligations under the PGPA Act, 2013, The Protective Security Policy Framework, and with our internal Protective Security Policy. This will include ensuring that the preservation of records is only carried out by staff who have the appropriate security clearances and skills, and by controlling access to our collection storage areas and systems. In addition, our digital collection will be safeguarded through: the effective selection and management of storage solutions that are informed by international best practice for the preservation of archival records; the implementation of redundancy and back-up processes; the management of appropriate access; and, the delivery of a platform that complies with the Australian Government Information Security Manual regarding the management of cyber threats.


Our preservation and access activities have a symbiotic relationship, each relies on the other to deliver mutually beneficial, long-term, outcomes for the collection and its users. We will use all available actions and technologies to provide the most extensive and seamless access possible, over the longest period of time, to the largest number of records in the collection. Although the items in our collection have a finite lifespan, our aim is to ensure that access to the content from those records can be provided forever, regardless of changes in technology.

Duplicates, primarily digital surrogates, will be made, within available resources, when records are in a suitable condition to be copied. Our default position will be to provide access to these digital surrogates whenever they are available. This will prolong the lifespan of original physical records, reduce the risks of damage to the collection, and broaden access opportunities. However, as prescribed by the Archives Act, our preservation efforts will not prevent access to a record in its original form unless there is a justifiable reason to do so (Access to records can be restricted for preservation reasons under the ARCHIVES ACT 1983 – SECT 33 and SECT 36 Exempt records, such as the record’s condition, or if the access would unacceptably compromise the long-term safety of the record. In addition, records that are restricted from digitisation due to their security markings will be delivered in physical format to the controlling agency or their proxy.

For digital records, a range of preservation strategies will be used to ensure their ongoing accessibility, including, but not limited to, bit preservation, emulation and normalisation. In addition, we will capture all information that is necessary for collection content to be located, preserved, retrieved, understood and interpreted.

Within the context of our Act, we will comply with all relevant intellectual property rights and with other legal and moral rights related to copying, storage, modification of content, and the use of records. In addition, our preservation activities will work in concert with National Archives’ accessibility efforts to optimise use of the collection by those experiencing barriers to access.

Focused on continuous improvement and outreach

We will continue our efforts to remain up to date regarding best practices in our field, including processes, systems, standards, ethics and equipment. We will provide regular preservation training to all relevant staff, and will provide training and advice to archival institutions and other Australian government agencies as resources allow. The development of digital preservation skills will be a particular priority for our training efforts. We will also set, review and publish our preservation standards, which will also be used by government agencies.


We support UNESCO’s statement that the:

…deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world

(UNESCO World Heritage Centre – Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage).

We will continue to collaborate with other archives, professional associations, governments and the private sector in Australia, our region and internationally. We will also work with external providers so that we can accelerate our preservation and access outcomes, in particular outsourcing the digitisation of audiovisual material to meet the objectives of our Deadline 2025 agenda.

9. Guiding practices

The following approaches will allow us to balance the needs of current generations with our responsibilities for providing ongoing access to the collection for future generations:

Understanding the collection

We will carry out regular surveys of our collection to ensure that we understand its immediate and long-term preservation priorities. These surveys will inform the development of our preservation strategies, and yearly preservation plans, allowing us to match our preservation actions to the specific needs of our collection. We will continue to utilise and develop tools and systems to assist with this collection analysis activity.

Metadata is essential for the effective management, preservation and use of records. The metadata models used by the Archives will be capable of describing multiple versions of physical and digital records, and will have the capacity to capture a complete audit trail of the preservation actions that have been carried out on those records.

Continuing to implement one-touch preservation

Our one-touch preservation approach reduces the handling of original physical records and maximises the long-term cost effectiveness of our resources. Each time a record is handled, when it is practical to do so, we will carry out all collection management and preservation activities that a record requires, such as: preservation treatments for, and repackaging of, physical records; the creation of digital surrogates; the enhancement of metadata; and, fixity checking.

In line with the approach taken by other archival institutions, such as the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) (Digitisation Standards at the National Archives and Records Administration (PDF 276KB)), and within existing resources, we will create complete versions of our records at a quality level that will satisfy as many known and expected uses as practical. The creation of copies at a lower, fit-for-purpose quality may be approved when the immediate non-preservation, pragmatic outcomes outweigh the longer-term benefits.

Continuous digital preservation

Continuous preservation activity is required to ensure the long-term safety of digital records. We will: ensure that we preserve the best and/or most complete digital versions of records; ensure that all relevant and available metadata and descriptive information is captured at creation or transfer; actively monitor file format obsolescence; and, monitor and respond to the growing complexity and diversity of digital record types and formats. We will investigate and conduct risk assessments of digital formats to determine which formats facilitate the long-term preservation of digital records. In accordance with international best practice, it will be our preference to use formats and standards that are open and fully documented. Our preservation activities will accurately replicate the essential characteristics and potential of the original record, and we will publish our preferred digital file formats and standards for the creation (Born-digital file format standards) and digitisation (Preservation Digitisation standards) of records. These standards will be reviewed regularly to ensure that they meet contemporary best practice.

Managing the storage of records


We will continue to manage and monitor the environmental conditions in our collection storage areas, wherever they are located across the country, to extend the lifespan of the records they hold. This will increase our opportunity to create digital surrogates of these records before deterioration makes this impossible to achieve. We will also reduce the risks of damage to the collection through the appropriate handling and movement of records. All records will be stored using packaging that is suitable for long-term archival storage. All of these efforts will be supplemented by the collection management, handling and movement activities and goals that are outlined in National Archives’ National Storage Strategy 2021-22 to 2026-27.


Cyber-crime represents one of the most significant risks to our collection. A secure and stable digital platform is fundamental to protect our systems against cyber threats. We will continue to strengthen our cyber resilience within budget affordability. This will include the appropriate management of passwords and remote access, the quarantine and virus checking of incoming digital collections, data assurance activities, and the reporting of any data breaches. In addition, our digital preservation infrastructure will ensure data integrity, format sustainability, and information security. We will select storage technologies that maximise the periods between refreshment cycles. Detailed criteria and methods will be developed for selecting appropriate storage solutions, potentially including cloud services. We will also retain and maintain original digital records, even those with redundant formats. Our digital collection will be stored across several locations. The viability and integrity of backup copies, including the ability to restore from backups, will be periodically tested. We will carry out malware scanning and checking for file fixity, and files with fixity issues will be repaired or replaced. We will also manage access to digital archive systems and services, and will maintain complete record logs of processing actions.

Managing the use of physical records

When original physical records are removed from long-term storage for access, exhibition or loan, we will track, monitor and intellectually control the records as they are moved, stored, accessed and displayed. This includes ensuring that the design of exhibition spaces, such as lighting levels, meets the needs of the collection records that are being displayed. Within available resources, and when security classifications allow, all records that are released for external loans or used for in-house exhibitions will be digitised prior to use. We will also apply our preservation standards to the management of records that are loaned to us for purposes such as exhibition.

Preservation of original records

Original physical records can have historical, artistic, sentimental and cultural value that is independent of the content they hold. All reasonable efforts will be made to retain and maximise the life expectancy of original physical records that meet our intrinsic value criteria (General Records Authority 31 – Appendix 1 – Identifying intrinsic value), even after the preservation duplication of those records has been completed.

Similarly, digital records often have intrinsic characteristics that must be preserved, and an ecosystem of hardware and software that is required to access the digital essence. Our preservation approach will minimise the requirements for researchers to use new software applications. Mechanisms will be created for controlling and preserving the look and feel characteristics that are essential to each record’s meaning. We will continue to define and maintain the essential characteristics of born-digital records even after migration or normalisation activities have been carried out, to ensure that preservation processes can be replicated and new preservation techniques applied in the future. Digital surrogates and copies of digital-born records may be deleted when replaced by superior versions, but only after the redundant copies have been proven to not contain any residual technical or contextual value, or that the redundant copies are not required to prove the authenticity of the original records or subsequent copies. Metadata relating to deleted records will be retained, even after they have been deleted.

Prioritisation of resources

Our collection contains formats that are at-risk of becoming inaccessible within a short period of time. Our proactive preservation programs will stabilise at-risk records, or duplicate/migrate them to more accessible and sustainable formats. These programs will be driven by annual preservation plans which will reflect our ongoing risk assessment and analysis of the collection’s needs. When prioritising original physical records for preservation actions, we will select the earliest, best quality and/or most complete versions. Our preservation strategies will describe our prioritisation criteria, including at-risk formats, obsolescence issues and condition factors. These factors will be considered along with our intrinsic value criteria, and the priorities identified in our Description and Reference Services Strategies, and our ATSI Strategy Implementation Plan, to develop preservation plans that maximise the efficiency of our resources.

Undertaking preventative and protective measures

In addition to the storage and handling activities already mentioned, our preventative preservation activities will consider all potential risks to the collection, including:

  • the regular refinement and testing of our Disaster Recovery Plan
  • an integrated pest management approach
  • the management of biological hazards, such as mould
  • the assessment of loan venues for suitability
  • the maintaining and monitoring environmental conditions in storage and display areas
  • ensuring that records are stored in packaging that has passed archival quality testing
  • the delivery of records handling training to all relevant staff
  • continued engagement with Australian government agencies regarding proactive preservation approaches for their records.

Finally, within available resources, we will ensure that all data integrity assurance controls are in place and performed regularly, such as systematically testing the restoration of digital collection records from storage.

10. Standards

Standards provide benchmarks for defining requirements and measuring outcomes, and they support interoperability between contemporary and future systems. Our preservation activities are aligned with, or reference, the following internal and external standards:

11. Related corporate documentation

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Strategy Implementation Plan (2021-2026) (in development)
  • Archival Control Model
  • Archives Act 1983 (sections 5 (2) (a, b, k and l)
  • Australian Government Information Security Manual (ISM)
  • Building Trust in the Public Record policy
  • Cellulose Nitrate Policy
  • Distributed Custody Policy
  • Electronic Transactions Act 1999
  • Evidence Act 1995
  • Freedom of Information Act 1982
  • ICT Technology Roadmap
  • Information Management Policy
  • National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) Manual (2004)
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017-18 to 2020-21
  • National Archives of Australia, Performance Model – An Approach to the Preservation of Digital Records
  • National Description Strategy
  • National Digitisation Strategy
  • National Engagement Strategy
  • National Preservation Strategy
  • National Reference Service Strategy
  • National Storage Strategy
  • National Transfer Strategy
  • National Volunteer Program Strategy and Implementation Plan
  • Operational policy for storage and physical control of Commonwealth records in the Archive’s custody
  • Our Way – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander protocols
  • Personal Records Policy Acquisition Policy 2015
  • Policy on Disposal of Records in the Archives’ Custody Following Digitisation
  • Privacy Act 1988
  • The Protective Security Policy Framework
  • Strategy2030: A Transformed and Trusted National Archives (in development)
  • The Archives Way

12. Definitions

Drawn from or built on Multilingual Archival Terminology Database (

Term Definition
Access The right, opportunity or means of finding, using or approaching records and/or information.
Conservation The repair or stabilisation of materials through chemical and/or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible.
Digital surrogate A digital copy of a physical record. While the original physical record survives, this copy serves as a preservation backup that also facilitates access. Once the original physical record is no longer available, this surrogate will become the primary preservation copy.
Digitisation The process of creating digital files by scanning or otherwise converting physical materials.
Fixity check A method for ensuring the integrity of a file and verifying it has not been altered or corrupted. It is most often accomplished by computing checksums such as MD5, SHA1 or SHA256 for a file and comparing them to a stored value.
Metadata Structured information that describes and/or allows users to find, manage, control, understand or preserve other information over time. Record title and creating agency are examples of metadata.
Original record The earliest and/or most complete version of a record.
Policy Principles of action.
Preservation All processes and operations involved in ensuring the technical and intellectual survival of authentic records through time. This can include the ongoing monitoring and risk assessment of formats and their environments; providing appropriate packaging and storage; digitisation, normalisation and migration of records; and managing the metadata which describes the origin and successive treatment of the record.
Records Archival resources of the Commonwealth that are in National Archives’ custody. These can either be digital records (a record produced, stored or transmitted by digital means rather than physical means, including born digital records and digitised records); or physical (non-digital) media.
Strategy A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term goal.