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The following is a guest post by Tim Knight, Associate Librarian and Head of Technical Services, Osgoode Hall Law School Library. Originally published on Slaw, Canada’s online legal magazine.

Is Digitization Preservation?

That was the question that welcomed us on the morning of Day 2 at the law repositories conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. This session was billed as a “debate” between Sharon Bradley, University of Georgia School of Law, and Beth Williams, Louisiana State University Law Center, but it turned out that the two speakers didn’t really have much to disagree on; they both considered digitization a form of preservation.

Bradley stressed the need for libraries to get started. “Digitization can’t wait,” she said, “your books are deteriorating.” She sees digitization as a way to both protect the physical item from harm and preserve the intellectual content. Williams could not disagree and considered her position as a difference in emphasis.

She finds their motivation for digitization and preservation is as a means to provide access and framed the two terms like this:

  • Digitization = Access now
  • Preservation = Access later

Williams also pointed out that “digital media are fragile” noting that this is an area where everything quickly becomes obsolete. A long term approach to preservation must therefore consider the inevitable changes in technology to ensure that the digital files we access today will still be available in the future. In that respect she saw parallels in the disaster management process adding that organizational issues should also be considered and can be even more important than these inherent technical challenges.

Bradley agreed. The evaluation and organization of digital resources should be an ongoing process and our role as librarian and repositorians is really one of stewardship. It is our responsibility to minimize exposure of the physical items and ensure the authenticity of the digital object created to represent that original resource. Williams agreed and pointed to LIPA and the National Digital Stewards Alliance as sources to learn about standards and get guidance.

Williams mentioned these 4 principles from a 2012 OCLC report by Ricky Erway on managing born-digital resources created from physical media:

  • Do no harm (to the physical media or the content)
  • Don’t do anything that unnecessarily precludes future action and use
  • Don’t let the first two principles be obstacles to action
  • Document what you do

For me, preservation is more than just the act of digitizing a resource, although it’s definitely a start. It helps to preserve the original physical resource, and that’s a good thing, but digital resources will also need vigilant management. “Bit rot” can make files unreadable over time and steps need to be put in place to check and maintain the stability of digital files. Bradley recommended the migration of digital files every 3-5 years. The bepress platform uses the CLOCKSS protocol and repositories using this platform might consider investigating that option.

Unfortunately, neither the presentation slides nor a recording of this particular session are publicly available at this time.

Oh, and happy preservation week!

Digital information lasts forever — or five years, whichever comes first.”—Jeff Rothenberg