Archives are the records of transactions between people. They are what survives of us – whether it’s the letters of a politician, the diaries of a housewife, school photographs or prison registers. More and more archives are coming to us in digital form. The information they contain is mostly the same as paper records – so the letters are still letters, they’re just Word documents or emails. The diaries are now blogs. The photographs are jpeg files. And registers these days come as spreadsheets or databases.

Looking after them is a little bit more complicated than putting them in an acid-free box and leaving it on a shelf. But the traditional archive processes of appraisal (preserving only what is historically important), authenticity (making sure the record is what is says it is and works as it should), context (making sure the collection is described properly) and access (making the stuff available without damaging it) remain the same. But digital preservation is NOT scary!

Digital records take a number of forms, including websites, emails, word documents, blogs and spreadsheets. These files are actually more vulnerable than paper records, largely because technologies are evolving at such a fast pace. The lifespan of a digital record can be as little as five years. Hardware and software falls out of use, while the media on which information is stored deteriorates. Essential information or context can therefore easily become unreadable and unrecoverable.

We therefore need to ensure that digital records are managed actively and appropriately in order to ensure their long-term accessibility. The North West Region Digital Preservation Group’s guidelines for depositors is intended for individuals and small organisations who hold records in a digital format, offering practical advice on taking the necessary steps. To read more about digital preservation see the North West Region Digital Preservation Group’s blog.

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