Digital Preservation—Changing Focus

This activity is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

During the 1980s and well into the 1990s RLG members engaged in coordinated, largely grant-funded preservation projects focused on brittle materials preservation through microfilming while developing standards, good practice, and sharable expertise. The RLG preservation program (dubbed "PRESERV" in the 1990s) helped members to build effective, visible preservation programs at their institutions and contributed significantly to best practices around the world.

With the advice of our "mid-decade planning group" in 1993, RLG began focusing on the opportunities and challenges of research materials in digital form—whether converted or "born digital." By 1996 RLG preservation librarians were creating a strategic plan for preservation linked to RLG’s organization-wide goals for 1996 through 2000. Work began on this plan in 1997 and the cumulative results underpin new work today.

1996 Strategic Plan for Preservation

Excerpts from the strategic plan prepared by the PRESERV Advisory Council and endorsed by the PRESERV participants November 1996.

I. Introduction

RLG's future role must be shaped in the context of the preservation challenge now faced by libraries and archives throughout its membership. That challenge is represented by four main types of activity:

A. Education and training. It is generally acknowledged that education and training must play an increasing role as librarians and archivists attempt to manage and stay abreast of change. Staff, from preservation technicians to preservation program directors to library directors, are affected by the need for preservation education and training.

B. Research. The new information technologies are resulting in the rapid development of a wide variety of hardware and software products to capture and distribute information on an unprecedented scale. Libraries must embrace the technology, but also ensure that their interests are being met by pursuing rigorous research in areas of special significance.

C. Standards, specifications, benchmarks. Librarians and archivists trying to grapple with a confusing array of practices relating to microform were assured by authoritative standards drawn up by RLG in part to guide a common approach to grant funding. Today, the need for authoritative standards, specifications, and benchmarks is much more essential, but more difficult to obtain because of the growing complexity of the technologies and the fast rate of development.

D. Production. The ability of research repositories to deliver the promise of long-term accessibility is conditioned by the rate at which materials can be conserved, reformatted, and effectively stored. In the final analysis, present and future scholars will judge us by the type and amount of library and archival material and information that we save and make accessible.

The RLG PRESERV strategic plan attempts to put forward a realistic agenda for the next five years that is tightly focused on initiatives utilizing RLG's strengths. [It] articulates a range of actions from three main sources: RLG members acting as a group, RLG staff acting on members' behalf, and individual member libraries, or small subsets of the group, working on RLG PRESERV initiatives.

II. Plan

Goal 1: Develop and support the use of digital media as a preservation strategy

1a. Develop strategies for the permanent maintenance and storage of preservation digital files.

  • Collaborate with relevant partners to investigate models for centralized digital archiving consistent with the recommendations of the RLG-CPA Digital Archiving Task Force;
  • Create a small PRESERV task force to review the RLG-CPA report for possible action items;
  • Add PRESERV input to the technical task force of the Studies in Scarlet and [other RLG coordinated digital collection projects].

1b. Investigate and establish preservation requirements for digital imaging.

  • Develop guidelines for image capture considering quality goals, user presentation objectives, and care of image surrogates;
  • Develop model work flows;
  • Develop model RFPs and contracts for a variety of service needs;
  • Develop guidelines for digital "queuing";
  • Investigate issues concerning how users access and manipulate digital images;
  • Explore preservation issues related to digitizing oversized images;
  • Ensure that preservation issues are addressed as the larger community develops guidelines and standards for metadata;
  • Review action list for opportunities to make progress on goals that require consensus.

1c. Educate and train practitioners and administrators.

  • Host a three-day training session where guidelines and models developed in 1b are translated into application.
  • Follow up Studies in Scarlet and other initiatives for education and training opportunities

1d. Preserve collections through the creation of distributed digital files. Project outcomes should include:

  • image capture guidelines;
  • model work flows;
  • requirements for viewing and manipulation;
  • methodology for technically optimizing usefulness of digital resource.Defer cost studies until we acquire more experience with project implementation.

[1d. specifically focused RLG's RLG's planned Global Migration project, to ensure that participants be selected, at least in part, based on their ability to address the preservation issues folded into the project goals. That project was not funded.]

Goal 2: Address issues related to preservation of magnetic media

2a. Research and document requirements for preserving magnetic media. Establish a working group to:

  • Organize the available research and knowledge;
  • Develop documentation, including guidelines for storage, care and handling and copying;
  • Investigate cost and quality (better monitoring of environment, etc.) benefits of PRESERV participants sharing a storage facility for magnetic media
  • Develop a model RFP for contract copying.

2b. Educate and train practitioners and administrators.

  • Develop and offer a 2- or 3-day training session to share guidelines and provide hands-on experience in the care, management, and re-recording of magnetic materials.

2c. Collaborate with existing organizations (Association for Recorded Sound Collections, ALA's Preservation and Reformatting Section, the International Association of Sound Archives, and others) to identify areas of overlap in expertise and areas needing further investigation.

Goal 3: Pursue international collaboration in preservation

3a. Provide information about preservation activities throughout the world to reduce duplicative effort, stimulate preservation activity, and facilitate cooperation.

  • Promote member contributions to RLG electronic discussion group;
  • Continue to support sharing of MARC records internationally;
  • Support and act on recommendations to be submitted by the Working Group on Preservation and Reformatting Information;
  • Promote broader participation in PRESERV by non-US RLG members.

3b. Encourage cooperation in research by developing a commonly understood research and testing agenda.

  • Consult with appropriate national and international organizations to review areas of mutual need and interest as well as current levels of activity.

3c. Work towards the development and general endorsement of international standards and protocols.

III. Appendix A

[The appendix discussed the value of face-to-face meetings for RLG's RLG's community vs. the challenges of conflicting schedules and travel costs. It recommended an annual RLG PRESERV participants' meeting not tied to other national conferences.]

First actions

To initiate the PRESERV strategic plan, we convened the first five of a series of working groups:

  • RLG Preservation Working Group on Digital Archiving, 1997-1998. (See Digital Archiving—Early Priorities)
  • RLG Preservation Working Group on Digital Image Capture, 1997. (See Digital Image Capture Planning & Topics)
  • RLG Working Group on Preserving Magnetic Media, 1997.
    This group studied the kind of practical guidelines needed by libraries and archives in preserving information stored on magnetic and optical media. It recommended that RLG create a manual that would take the approach of our earlier preservation microfilming guides and address successful projects from start to finish.
  • RLG Working Group on Preservation and Reformatting Information, 1997-1999. (See Establishing MARC 21 Coding for Digital Files)
  • RLG Working Group on Preservation Issues of Metadata, 1997-1998. (See Essential Metadata for Digital Master Files)

We are a worldwide library cooperative, owned, governed and sustained by members since 1967. Our public purpose is a statement of commitment to each other—that we will work together to improve access to the information held in libraries around the globe, and find ways to reduce costs for libraries through collaboration.