Can We Do More? An Examination of Potential Roles, Contributors, Incentives, and Frameworks to Sustain Large-Scale Digital Preservation

Carol A. Mandel

September 2019. 22 pp. (electronic only)

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The many challenges of managing and preserving digital content are well known to cultural memory institutions. Institutions have become adept at digitizing and reformatting important content and ensuring its long-term access. At the same time, the nature, scale, and policy complexities of content that is born digital are presenting an even more radical shift in demands and expectations. An overwhelming amount of the knowledge, documentary evidence, and creative expression produced today originates in digital formats—from news reports to media to personal papers. While important initiatives have emerged to keep selected born-digital content accessible, in comparison to collecting policies of the analog age, we are preserving only a small portion of what exists. Is it enough?

CLIR presidential fellow Carol Mandel investigates this question in a study of the societal and institutional frameworks that collect and preserve born-digital documentary evidence. She finds that while we continue to make impressive progress in addressing the daunting technical demands of preserving digital materials, our ability—and the impetus—to collect born-digital content lags far behind likely future needs for the documentation of today’s world. The decision to collect is an essential prerequisite to preservation and enduring access.

Chapter 1, presented here, frames her research, outlining the significant disparities between the traditional roles and expectations of memory institutions and the disruption presented by new forms of born-digital content.

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