Preserving information

Preserving records, information and data means ensuring that they remain accessible and usable over time. Many assets are fragile and, even in good storage conditions, will deteriorate. This deterioration can accelerate when assets are accessed and handled. 

In addition to deterioration, the preservation of archival collections can also face key challenges relating to:

  • the availability of the skills and equipment that is required to access or play records, such as video players, microfiche readers, film projectors, and software that can open obsolete digital file formats
  • the ongoing management of digital data, such as the use of backup systems and checksums to avoid data loss and/or degradation
  • the ongoing management of the metadata, and metadata schemas, that allow you to capture all of the information necessary to describe and manage your records.

Assets that are at risk because of these challenges include audiovisual records created using magnetic media. 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.

Preservation of Australian Government records

The National Archives has a legislative responsibility to manage, preserve and make accessible the archival resources of the Commonwealth for current and future generations.

The National Archives of Australia Preservation Policy 2021 - 2025 defines the National Archives preservation principles and practices for the period 2021-2025, and guides the development of the organisation’s preservation strategies and plans.

The policy covers all media and formats, and will be used to develop preservation-related strategies and plans; and guide activities and decisions relating to the preservation of the National Archives collection.

The policy may also be used by other government agencies and archival organisations to inform their preservation efforts.

The Building trust in the public record policy recommends that agencies implement strategies, including storage and preservation strategies, for the management of all information assets (action 12 – recommended). The policy also requires that agencies manage all digital information assets, created from 1 January 2016, digitally. Information assets created digitally from this date, that are eligible for transfer to the National Archives, will be accepted in digital format only (action 9 – mandatory). 

Your preservation strategies should take identified risks and the deterioration of all formats into consideration by developing an understanding of:

  • the assets you have, including their condition, content and dependencies (for example, available technology for playback)
  • the restrictions that affect your collection, such as copyright, privacy concerns and cultural sensitivities
  • the skills and equipment you have available, or that your agency can access.

Your preservation strategies should also include:

  • a method for prioritising your preservation efforts. In addition to condition and obsolescence factors, what criteria will allow you to identify the content that needs to be retained, or that has value for you, your organisation or future generations?
  • duplication standards that match your needs and are within your budget. The National Archives has developed standards for digital preservation that may be useful as a benchmark for duplication standards.
  • safe and secure storage for your physical assets. Can you access stable storage environments that will extend the lifespan of your assets? The storage of duplicates in separate physical locations is essential.

To support your preservation planning, you should also develop:

  • A disaster management strategy outlining the most obvious risks to your collection, and what can you do to mitigate these risks.
  • A collection management system for identifying and controlling your collection both physically and intellectually. This system should be able to capture all of the data required to describe the content, context and provenance of collection assets whenever that information is available. It should also retain evidence of all preservation activity so that you can provide proof that your assets are authentic and that your duplicates have been protected against unauthorised or accidental alteration.

Preservation planning resources

The National Archives has produced publications and information to help guide your preservation planning.

Preserving digital records

  • Born-digital file format standards – provides information about formats for agencies to use that support the preservation, accessibility and interoperability of digital information across Government agencies over the long-term.
  • Types of information – provides an overview of common systems and communication media that generate Commonwealth records, information and data.
  • Preservation Digitisation Standards – provides the required standards for digitisation of physical records that are retained as national archives (RNA). These standards are designed for internal, outsourced and agency digitisation of RNA records. 
  • Outsourcing digital storage – provides advice on how to evaluate your digital storage options and manage associated risks.
  • Transferring information to the National Archives – provides information on transferring your records, information and data to the National Archives.
  • Digital preservation planning – provides more information to help plan preservation requirements for digital and audiovisual information assets.

Preserving physical records

Careful handling, transport and display procedures, along with a controlled storage environment, will help the preservation of your physical records.

The Archives can provide recommendations for the creation and storage of archival documents. The following links give advice on choosing storage media and how to protect and handle records on these media:

Archival papers and products

Format-specific preservation advice

Other advice on physical preservation

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