What features should good digital preservation tools have?

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Many institutions rely on powerful digital preservation tools to protect valuable digital archives. The question is what features a good digital preservation tool should have. How can we choose the right one? 

You will find the answers to these questions in today’s post.

 Read on to discover the five must-have features of every digital preservation solution (there is a bonus section at the end with valuable insights you’ll like).

Digital preservation tools are essential for safeguarding digital content

Before discovering what features a good tool should have, we must first understand what these tools are for and how many types we can find. 

Digital preservation tools are designed to ensure the long-term accessibility, usability, and integrity of digital content. They encompass a variety of software solutions and strategies aimed at managing, protecting, and maintaining digital assets over time. 

The types of tools can vary based on their specific functionalities and intended use cases, including:

  • File format conversion tools to convert digital files from obsolete or proprietary formats into more sustainable and widely supported formats, thus ensuring continued access to the content.
  • Storage and backup solutions, focus on securely storing digital content and creating backup copies to guard against data loss due to hardware failures, disasters, or other unforeseen events.
  • Digital asset management systems (DAMS), are comprehensive platforms designed to organize, catalog, and manage large collections of digital assets, providing functionalities for metadata management, version control, and access control.
  • Fixity checking and validation tools, verify the integrity of digital files over time by generating and comparing checksums or cryptographic hashes, helping to detect any unauthorized alterations or data corruption.
  • Emulation and virtualization tools, these tools and technologies recreate obsolete hardware and software environments, allowing legacy digital content to be accessed and experienced in its original context.
  • Metadata extraction and preservation tools, these tools extract and preserve essential metadata associated with digital objects, including descriptive, administrative, and technical information, to ensure their proper identification, management, and interpretation.
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) Systems, control access to digital content and enforce usage restrictions to protect intellectual property rights and prevent unauthorized copying or distribution.

Understanding the purpose and functionalities of these various types that exist is essential for identifying the most suitable solutions for preserving specific types of digital content and addressing the unique challenges of long-term preservation.

Are digital preservation tools, digital preservation systems, and digital preservation platforms the same thing?

While they share similarities, “digital preservation tools,” “digital preservation systems,” and “digital preservation platforms” are not the same. 

Digital preservation tools refer to individual software applications or utilities designed to perform specific tasks related to digital preservation. For example, format conversion tools, fixity checking tools, metadata management tools, and migration tools are all examples of digital preservation tools. These tools are often used in conjunction with each other within a broader digital preservation system.

A digital preservation system encompasses the entire infrastructure, workflows, policies, and procedures required to preserve digital content over time. It includes the individual tools and the organizational processes, human resources, and technical infrastructure needed to manage and maintain digital assets. 

Digital preservation systems often consist of multiple integrated tools working together to achieve preservation goals.

On the other hand, digital preservation platforms are software solutions that provide a suite of tools and functionalities for managing and preserving digital content. 

The 5 must-have features of digital preservation tools

  1. Accessibility and usability

A digital preservation solution’s interface should be a gateway to ease and transparency. The ideal tool marries practicality with simplicity, rendering complex preservation processes navigable even to those with modest technical acumen. Intuitive design paired with clear workflows leads to systems that can be quickly adopted, encouraging a team’s participation in the vital preservation task.

  1. Support for various file formats

In a diverse landscape, the preservation solution must be a polyglot—equipped to comprehend and conserve an extensive range of file types. Whether it’s an archaic .TIFF file or the latest encoding in audiovisual technology, the tool’s versatility is its strength. 

Look for tools that handle known formats and have mechanisms to integrate with emerging standards seamlessly.

  1. Metadata management

It should allow for the inclusion of descriptive, structural, and administrative metadata in digital object management, preserving the context and nuance of the materials for future generations.

  1. Security and encryption

Trust is non-negotiable. Valuable archives are handed over to these tools with the implicit expectation that the content will be well safeguarded. The tool of choice should employ robust security measures, such as access controls, encryption, and digital signatures, to reassure stakeholders that the integrity and authenticity of their archives are beyond reproach.

  1. Scalability and longevity

Archives grow and needs to evolve. A preservation tool must stay within the weight of an expanding digital corpus but instead should scale efficiently with minimal disruption to daily operations. It must demonstrate through design and vendor commitment that it will remain relevant and supported in the long term.

Bonus section: How can you start utilizing a digital preservation tool effectively? 

Note: These are general steps to follow because this procedure should be tailored to the company’s requirements.

  1. Begin by assessing your organization’s digital preservation needs, including the types of digital content you have, the volume of content, and any specific preservation requirements or challenges you may face.
  2. Research and evaluate digital preservation tools that align with your organization’s needs and requirements. Consider factors such as functionality, scalability, ease of use, compatibility with existing systems, and support services offered.
  3. Select digital preservation tools that best meet your organization’s needs and requirements based on your research and evaluation. Consider starting with a small pilot project or trial period to test the selected tools before fully committing to implementation.
  4. Develop a complete implementation plan outlining the steps, resources, and timeline required to deploy the selected digital preservation tools within your organization. Identify key stakeholders, allocate necessary resources, and establish clear goals and objectives for the implementation process.
  5. Provide training and support to staff members who will be responsible for using the digital preservation tools. Ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively utilize the tools and incorporate digital preservation best practices into their workflows.
  6. Establish clear workflows and procedures for using digital preservation tools within your organization. Define roles and responsibilities, outline preservation processes, and establish protocols for managing and maintaining digital content over time.
  7. Continuously monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the digital preservation tools and workflows implemented within your organization. Solicit feedback from staff members and stakeholders, identify areas for improvement, and make adjustments as needed to optimize the preservation process.

Another question that many of our clients ask themselves before starting a digital preservation process is:

How can we achieve a modular and flexible approach to digital preservation?

The National Archives in the UK affirms that “a combination of tools and technology that are currently available may be the most cost-effective means of achieving a modular and flexible approach to digital preservation.” 

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, the Digital Preservation Coalition provides a complete guide for beginners about digital preservation tools.

Feel free to contact our Libnova advisors for personalized assistance, to resolve your questions, and to provide you with the right solution to safeguard your digital assets.

We recommend you read:

The importance of digital preservation to prevent data loss 

Libnova joins the Nagara Annual Conference 2024

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