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National Digital Preservation Initiatives:An Overview of Developments in Australia, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and of Related International Activity

A Summary of a Report Published by the Council on Library and Information Resources

National Digital Preservation Initiatives: An Overview of Developments in Australia, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and of Related International Activity

Neil Beagrie
April 2003

The following summary has been written by CLIR staff.

“Preservation is a digital time bomb; failure to act may lead to total loss.” This possibility, as expressed in a new report on preservation abroad, is chillingly familiar to American library administrators. Publishers, scholars, teachers, and libraries are creating vast quantities of digitally formatted material with little notion of how it will be preserved for long-term use. What can be done?

To find out, the U.S. Congress is financing an effort called the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). The purpose of NDIIPP, which is being run under the leadership of the Library of Congress (LC), is to produce a “national strategy to collect, archive, and preserve the burgeoning amounts of digital content, especially materials that are created only in digital formats, for current and future generations.” University libraries have a stake in the program because they share the problem and will almost certainly be called on to participate in the solution. Moreover, many academic libraries will provide digital access services that depend on long-term archiving by someone, somewhere.

To see whether the experience of other countries can shed light on this issue, LC commissioned Neil Beagrie, program director for digital preservation in the United Kingdom’s Joint Information Systems Committee, to review major initiatives abroad. His report, National Digital Preservation Initiatives, just published by the Council on Library and Information Resources, identifies the following “underlying trends” that complicate the preservation problem worldwide:

  • Digital media are fragile and the hardware and software needed to read them quickly become obsolete. As a result, decisions concerning preservation of digital materials must be made relatively quickly-well before their historical importance has been proved.
  • Increases in both traditional and digital information are straining national institutions. Moreover, these institutions themselves must now evaluate much of the digital material, because the Internet makes publication possible without vetting by established publishers.
  • New areas of collecting are growing: film, television, and Web sites have become important parts of the cultural record.
  • Distribution arrangements are changing. Institutions now license access to, rather than purchase, much of their electronic material. It is not clear who has responsibility for archiving this licensed material.
  • The commercial need to protect intellectual property rights is overshadowing the need of memory institutions for permission to archive. No country surveyed had enacted comprehensive legal provisions for archiving digital publications.
  • Archiving arrangements need to be global, because international publishers deliver digital material globally. Fortunately, international information technology marketing encourages the use of common technologies that increase possibilities for collaboration.

None of the countries surveyed had an “ultimate preservation solution,” and a single quick fix is not in sight. Rather, Mr. Beagrie reports, “a combination of approaches is likely to be appropriate,” and some promising ones are under way. Progress is difficult, however, because none of the national libraries in the countries surveyed has core funding commensurate with the preservation challenge. Funding increases will be necessary, which makes it imperative to increase public awareness of the problem.

Mr. Beagrie’s report includes recommendations from national libraries to the NDIIPP that may be useful to research libraries in general.

Concerning collaboration

  • Know and work face-to-face with critical stakeholders and other institutions, but recognize that collaboration takes resources, effort, patience, and time.
  • Look at commonalities, rather than differences, with others, but recognize that transferability of solutions may depend on similarities of scale.
  • Work early with publishers whose materials are in proprietary formats that may pose preservation difficulties.
  • Work with multiple institutions to develop commercial market solutions and systems.
  • Commit staff time and financing to sharing lessons learned with partners.

Concerning organization

  • Start small in a defined area and build in feedback for continuous learning.
  • Experiment with strategies and procedures, but also be sure to have an overarching e-strategy so that digital developments interface effectively and keep in step with each other.
  • Integrate digital preservation into your organization; do not make it dependent on short-term or external funding. Recognize that costs are initially hard to calculate.
  • Seek strong commitment from senior management.

Concerning staffing

  • Raise awareness internally as well as externally about preservation needs.
  • Because the pool of preservation expertise is small, build on people and expertise you have. Work across departments to get needed skills for teams.
  • Keep teams stable for continuity in partnerships as well as in projects.


National Digital Preservation Initiatives: An Overview of Developments in Australia, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and of Related International Activity
Neil Beagrie, April 2003. ISBN 1-932326-00-6. 51 pages.

The text of the report (in PDF and HTML formats) is available free on CLIR’s Web site at Print copies also can be ordered at this URL for $20 per copy plus shipping.

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