Final Report of Recommendations for Digital Archiving

This is the final report of a completed RLG project.

From the RLG Preservation Working Group on Digital Archiving
January 14, 1998

Recommended areas for RLG action

Area #1: Identify and analyze the digital archiving needs of RLG member institutions

RLG should identify and better quantify the kinds of services members need to continue meeting their institutional mission in an increasingly electronic environment. The RLG membership consists of diverse, international institutions with wide-ranging needs and differing levels of expertise and technical capacity. The analysis must take into account these institutional and international variations as well as considering long-term storage needs and the required access to both locally created and owned electronic data.

Assignment. This work could be contracted as a graduate or internship research project with appropriate management and project oversight. The working group recommends the project be coordinated by Margaret Hedstrom, Associate Professor at the School of Information, University of Michigan, and a member of the working group.


a. Develop a survey instrument to gather and analyze data about needed services. These might include services for the management of metadata about digital holdings of member institutions, the preservation of common or shared collections, the preservation of digital objects in specialized formats, the conversion of digital materials from obsolete formats, or a cooperative/consortial digital archiving facility.

b. Test the survey instrument, administer the survey to RLG member institutions, and compile and analyze results.

c. Prepare final report with data that informs and feeds directly into the work proposed in Area #2 below.

Time frame. The project could be done in four months or one academic semester. Work could begin by January 1998.


—A tested survey instrument that can be used broadly among RLG member institutions to identify and measure present and near future digital archiving needs.

—A set of data representing RLG member needs that can be mapped against the work in Area #2 examining existing models for managing archiving facilities.

—The final survey instrument could also be distributed more widely to assist others in analyzing archiving needs.

Area #2: Examine and evaluate existing models for managing digital archiving facilities to determine models that can be adopted by member institutions and implemented by RLG to satisfy member needs

A selected group of existing digital repositories should be examined in detail for their policie, procedures, and strategies for managing their digital archiving facilities and services. A summary of the common denominators, specific strategies, and best practices can be used to define models for the digital library community. Models will be compared to member survey data to determine which elements are applicable and can be implemented to meet the archiving needs of RLG members.

Assignment. To a new international working group of members recruited from key projects and programs. Charge them to:

—Analyze centralized and distributed models for digital archiving facilities.

—Recommend which models could be replicated in RLG member institutions and by RLG itself.

—Identify areas where none of the models satisfies the digital archiving needs of member institutions.


a. Identify a variety of existing, successful digital repositories representing a range of formats, users, and practices. Possible sites include the Essex Data Archive; Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR); a scholarly society that is preserving electronic journals (American Physical Society, Association of Computing Machinery, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers); a commercial publisher; a pharmaceutical company (Pfizer, Astra); a scientific database (Hubble Space Telescope data archive, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration database, National Space Science Data Center); a film producer (Dreamworks); the Digital Library Federation program; the UK Consortium of University Research Libraries' Cedars project.

b. Collect and analyze reports, policies, procedures, etc. and analyze public service interfaces where they exist.

c. Develop a survey instrument to collect data on the types of materials currently being archived; selection and appraisal criteria; preservation formats; description and cataloging practices; migration strategies, experiences, and associated costs; hardware and software used; search and retrieval capabilities; charge-back policies to owners and/or users of digital materials; usage fees or charges; size and capacity; standards; costs for equipment, maintenance, and storage; types of expertise required to operate the repository; sources and amount of funding; and types and extent of user services.

d. Summarize the data to find common denominators and identify specific strategies that could be replicated and that would meet the needs of member institutions.

e. Identify gaps between what current models cover and what members need (based on survey results); recommend ways to address those gaps. f. Prepare final report with recommended models that include requirements (systems, personnel, policies) and estimated costs for implementation.

Time frame. This work can be carried out simultaneously with the work in Area #1. Work can be completed by late 1998.


—Assembled information about existing archiving models that brings together in a useful way information about best practices and lessons.

—Recommended archiving model(s) that have been selected for their applicability or modified to meet the specific needs of RLG member institutions and the digital library community.

—Information about requirements and costs for implementation.

Area #3: Develop guidelines for appraisal, selection, and priority setting for preserving information in digital form

RLG should appoint a task force of archivists, curators/collection development managers, and preservation administrators to formulate appraisal guidelines for digital materials. This task force should be formed under the leadership of RLG's Primary Sources program and be integrated into [that community's] strategic action plan.

The task force should pay particular attention to information resources that exist exclusively in digital form or where digital formats offer distinct advantages over paper or analog formats.

Guidelines for preserving digital materials should be coordinated with broad appraisal and selection guidelines for archival and library materials. The task force should investigate mechanisms for distributing selection and preservation responsibilities among different institutions based on subject areas, formats, or particular user communities.

Assignment. To a new task force of interested members who are involved in appraisal, selection, and preservation of digital materials and who include representatives from archival, collection development, and preservation areas. Charge them to:

—Determine whether there are existing guidelines in member institutions for appraisal, selection and preservation of digital information.

—Gather and examine such examples and recommend adoption, adaptation, or creation of new guidelines based on the task force's analysis of existing guidelines.

—Recommend guidelines for all institutions working with long-term preservation of digital materials. Identify high priority materials which are vulnerable because of age, physical condition, technology obsolescence, or neglect.


a. Survey, collect and analyze existing guidelines in this area.

b. Prepare a draft set of guidelines based on good existing examples or recommended best practices.

c. Circulate draft guidelines for comment to wider group of members.

d. Analyze comments and incorporate changes to the guidelines as appropriate.

e. Issue a set of guidelines that could be used in multiple kinds of institutions.

f. Revisit the guidelines on a regular basis to ensure they are kept in line with the latest information available on long-term preservation of digital materials.

Time frame. The work should be completed within a year of appointing the task force.


—Assembled information about existing preservation guidelines for digital materials.

—Recommended guidelines that are relevant to appraisal and selection of digital materials.

—List of digital collections requiring immediate action.