Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Digital preservation and retention schedules

On April 18, I pointed you towards an article in D-Lib magazine written by James Currall and Peter McKinney. Last week, I received a message from Peter McKinney. It seems that he and Currall, who both work for espida, are feeling like lone voices in the wilderness asking us to consider to be selective in what we preserve, rather than just preserving everything.

Looking at the work espida is doing, it seems that the organization wants us not to make emotional decisions AND not to make decisions based on finances, but to look at the benefits. This is at the core of selective digital preservation. The question they want us to consider is:
"What is the benefit to preserving all of the materials?"

At the moment, many institutions are not doing digital preservation due to a number of reasons including cost. There is also the idea that once something is digitized, it should automatically be preserved, so some are hampered by the thought of needing to preserve everything, rather than being selective. Why would we digitize something that should not be preserved for the long-term? In my note back to Pete, I wrote:
You bring up a point (in the article) that we don't think about. Not everything -- particularly those things that are born digital -- needs to be preserved for the long-term. But it goes against what we believe as librarians or archivists. I do know from my experience in the corporate world that you should only retain those things that have value, but even now have a hard time tossing out some papers. Won't I need them at some point?
Maybe we should think formally about retention schedules for our digital materials. Wouldn't it be interesting if every project decided during the item selection process how long the resultant digital object should be preserved? That information could be kept as part of the metadata. Retention schedules are normal in many businesses -- especially major corporations. They ensure that materials are kept no longer than needed and mandate who keeps what (and how). Could we do the same?

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