Expert meeting on digital sustainability

On 20 and 21 April 2015 UNESCO convened a consultative meeting on digital sustainability jointly with the International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO at the headquarters of the organization in Paris. Some 40 experts from 17 countries, representing memory institutions, the IT community, government and academia were present.


UNESCO launched the PERSIST Project in order to foster a high-level policy dialogue among heritage institutions, governments and ICT-industry on digital heritage preservation under the aegis of the Memory of the World Programme. In order to achieve this objective, participants first took stock of various digital preservation activities underway, reviewed existing selection policies for digital heritage and discussed potential solution-oriented approaches to long term digital preservation, towards establishment of a Global Repository for Heritage Software with relevant ICT industry partners. The experts worked in three working groups, namely a Content Task Force, a Technology Task Force and a Policy Task Force.

PERSIST expert meeting in Paris.

PERSIST expert meeting in Paris. (Photo: UNESCO)

Technology Task Force

The Technology Task Force discussed the complexities of the digital environment including the vulnerability of digital documentary heritage to loss and destruction because of it being stored on fragile magnetic and optical media that deteriorate rapidly and that can fail easily from exposure to heat, humidity, or faulty reading and writing devices. Unlike the situation that applies to books, digital archiving requires relatively frequent investments to overcome rapid obsolescence introduced by technological change. In response to all these, the task force developed the concept of the Global Repository which is conceived as part of the gap analysis that highlighted the need to preserve software alongside the content. The Technology Task Force has therefore embarked onto a mission to create an international repository of legacy software. The Paris meeting brought important new partners to this task, including the Carnegie Mellon University and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

Content Task Force

The Content Task Force debated the issues related to selection of digital content for long term digital preservation which is one of the pressing issues currently faced by heritage institutions. Out of the massive amount of content available in a digital format, it has to be evaluated what needs to be preserved for future generations. Up till now there is no decisive method for selecting digital content and heritage institutions need to rethink their selection criteria from an analogue method to a digital one. In order to help public memory institutions with the emerging and ever changing environment and the resulting challenges, the Content Task Force will develop a set of guidelines for the selection of digital heritage for long term preservation which will give institutions from all domains (library, archive and museum) a starting point to thinking about their digital selection policy for long term access. Six writers from various parts of the world have been given this task; the Paris meeting brought them together for the first time and kicked-off the writing process.

Policy Task Force

Through its standard setting function, UNESCO aims to assist its Member States in formulating appropriate policies for effective management of their digital heritage. It is in this context that the Policy Task force discussed issues related to existing standards, policies and sustainability. The benefits of having a digital preservation policy in place include assisting with planning of a coherent digital preservation program and publicly indicating that the organization is serious about digital preservation. A digital preservation policy also states the mandate for an archive to support the preservation of digital records through a structured and managed digital preservation strategy. The policy details why selected material needs to be preserved; the strategy defines how this will be implemented.

Both the policy and the strategy are essential to ensure there is a verifiable and trusted means of preserving the integrity of digital records. The digital preservation policy also needs to identify how other policies such as the acquisition or collection policy should be applied to the collection and management of digital records the archives and libraries seek to preserve.

In the following months, UNESCO will continue its cooperation with ICA, IFLA, LIBER, Microsoft and other relevant partners to continue and intensify the work on development of solution-oriented approaches in the area of digital preservation through its three task forces.


Categories: PERSIST Programme

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