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The effectiveness and durability of digital preservation and curation systems

Digital curation Digital preservation Institutional repositories Archives Digital collections

Cultural, historic and scientific heritage is increasingly being produced and shared in digital forms, whether born-digital or reformatted from physical materials. There are fundamentally two different types of approaches being taken to preservation: One is programmatic preservation, a series of cross-institutional efforts to curate and preserve specific content types or collections usually based on the establishment of trusted repositories.

In addition, there are third-party preservation platforms, which are utilised by individual heritage organisations that undertake their own discrete efforts to provide curation, discovery and long-term management of their institutional digital content and collections.

In August 2020, with funding from the Institute of Library and Museum Services, Ithaka S+R launched an 18-month research project to examine and assess the sustainability of these third-party digital preservation systems. Specifically, researchers assessed what works well and the challenges and risk factors these systems face in their ability to continue to successfully serve their mission and the needs of the market. In scoping this project and selecting these organisations, the researchers intentionally included a combination of profit-seeking and not-for-profit initiatives, focusing on third-party preservation platforms rather than programmatic preservation.

Key findings:

  • The term preservation has become devalued nearly to the point of having lost its meaning.
  • Because no digital preservation system is truly turnkey, digital preservation cannot be fully outsourced.
  • Heritage organisations select preservation systems within the context of marketplace competition.
  • Not-for-profit preservation platforms are at risk.
  • The diversity of approaches to ensure long-term access to digital content—while a strength—can challenge the imperative to maintain high standards.
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