This brief piece presents and discusses a number of challenges that digital preservationists have to address when preserving materials. As the author begins by pointing out, preserving a digital material involves not only saving the file itself, but also ensuring that the infrastructure that makes it accessible is also available. This is addressed by different techniques (migration, emulation, normalization), which have different advantages depending on the resources and needs of the preserving institution.
Some challenges discussed include data volume (the amount of digital materials produced makes systems dealing with them more complex and expensive), archivability (choosing what should be kept and what shouldn’t), multiplicity (digital objects are likely to have multiple copies, which makes it less likely that they’ll be lost but more likely they’ll be preserved in a substandard format), and hardware/storage (the physical objects which store digital information such as floppies, USBs, etc. degrade quickly). Even software can represent a challenge, as newer versions of programs may not run files created with older versions, a problem that ties in with the challenge of different (sometimes proprietary) file formats. Privacy and legality concerns also arise when thinking about the content being preserved, which might contain personal details and sensitive records. One obvious issue mentioned that I hadn’t thought about was that of metadata – if it is missing or incomplete, the digital object might be undiscoverable. And finally, of course, all of this takes precious resources, which are in finite supply.
The article gave me a good, basic understanding of the main issues that digital preservationists have to deal with on a daily basis. If I do end up working in digital preservation, it’ll be really useful going in with an accurate idea of what the main problems are.