This week, we had the opportunity to examine several digital preservation and digital collection development policies and to consider potential approaches for the upcoming policy assignment. On a surface level, it was interesting to observe the variety of sections that cultural heritage institutions are choosing to include in their policies. In many cases, there seems to be a balance between communicating the overall vision for digital preservation and outlining more concrete methods that the organization intends to follow. These policies provide guidance for staff members about best practices, but they also could be used to share the institution’s mission and collecting priorities with administrators, users, donors, and potential funders.
I think these policies are useful in part because they can be used to educate people outside of the digital preservation community about the nature of this work. Sheldon found that several organizations decided to include a glossary of key terms in their policies, which helps to ensure that the documents remain fairly accessible to people who might not be familiar with the discipline-specific terminology. Some organizations also included a bibliography with additional resources for individuals who were interested in learning more. The University of Illinois and the National Library of Australia used their policies to list some of the particular challenges that digital collections present for their institutions. It’s helpful to include this type of information in a policy because it shows stakeholders that digital content needs to be actively managed and it helps to justify the need for continued support. On a more meta level, this background information also helps readers to understand why the institution chose to create a separate policy for digital materials instead of relying solely on an existing preservation policy that was originally created for analog materials.
One issue that came up in the readings was the need to provide guidance about file formats. Rimkus, Padilla, Popp, and Martin explained that file format policies are not necessarily intended to be strict regulations. Instead, repository managers issue recommendations that are intended to “strike a balance between lowering barriers to deposit and acquiring content that would stand the test of time.” Institutions provide different levels of support based on their confidence in a particular format. For example, Boston University only guarantees bit-level support for HTML files because this format changes relatively frequently and requires more resources. The Boston University Libraries are able to maintain bitstream and format integrity for other common file formats like PDFs and TIFFs. This is a more nuanced approach that is probably more realistic that promising to preserve something “forever” or requiring people to conform to a set list of formats. It’s good to be able to encourage standardization when we can, but there is a risk that file creators would either ignore the policy or refuse to deposit their materials if they felt the guidelines were too restrictive.
Of course, it helps that file formats that are popular with users are less likely to become obsolete. I think institutions would still need to be prepared to modify their policies if the status of a particular file format changes. I thought it was interesting that only 13/33 of the organizations in Sheldon’s report included a section on “Policy/Strategy Review.” It seems like some sort of review process should be in place to account for changing digital objects and preservation workflows. As we think about our next assignment, how can we create an enforceable policy while still allowing for some flexibility? How specific does a digital preservation policy actually need to be?
Collaboration was also frequently mentioned in the policies. Stanford’s Web Archiving Collection Development Policy stressed that staff should be aware of other institutions’ web archiving projects and avoid duplicating their work. Even when no formal relationship exists between two organizations, they can cooperate by focusing on distinct collecting areas and monitoring each other’s collection development policies. Digital preservation efforts also require collaboration within the organization in order to be successful. I liked that Dartmouth’s policy acknowledged that multiple departments (like Preservation Services, Digital Library Technologies Group, College Computing, and Cataloging and Metadata) would need to work together and share expertise. I think that outlining roles and responsibilities in the policy makes the document feel less abstract and helps to ensure that the institution is prepared to tackle the challenges that face them.
Although non-library partners (like IT) were referenced in some of these policies, it wasn’t always clear if these stakeholders played a role in the actual writing of the document or if the library was mainly working independently. And I did find myself wondering how many people (besides the librarians and archivists) actually read and follow these policies after they are completed. Are there ways that we can ensure that the process of creating digital preservation policies is inclusive and transparent? Can we apply these strategies to our work with our small organizations?