Survey of Digital Preservation Practices in Canada

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) have released the report Survey of Digital Preservation Practices in Canada, which presents the result of a survey the LAC commissioned in 2008 and completed in 2009.

The survey received 61 full responses from a variety of types of organisations: libraries, archives government departments/agencies, museums, research institutes, across a number of sectors: academic, governments and not-for profit. Although invitations were sent to several organizations in private industry, no responses were received from this sector.

The survey found that 72% of respondents are involved in some aspects related to digital preservation. Offsite storage was the most commonly cited practice in use, followed by activities that address the decay or obsolescence of storage media, including refreshing, bitstream copying and replication.

Digital preservation practices that address the understandability of the digital object (format/software obsolescence), such as migration or emulation are less widespread, even amongst those repositories that have a formal mandate to preserve. As well, only a few repositories are employing the types of  extensive metadata schemas needed for long-term preservation, such as PREMIS.

The majority of repositories in the survey are applying some basic integrity measurements (virus check, format verification, checksum verification, format validation) but other methods for establishing authenticity and trust in digital repositories, such as through the use of persistent identifiers and audit trails for digital objects are not well established.

There are also numerous other challenges for repositories beyond the most obvious technical ones, in particular around funding/staffing and expertise.

The report concludes digital preservation presents significant challenges; and given the growing volume and complexity of digital information it will continue to do so in the future. It suggests one way to assist Canadian organisations with these challenges would be to establish a central entity in Canada that can provide leadership in this area.

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