The following is a guest post by Kristin Snawder, a 2011 Junior Fellow working with NDIIPP.
“If it’s scanned, then it’s preserved, right? I mean, it’s in the computer now so that’s all I need to do!”
I’ve heard this response when I ask if something is digitally preserved and it raises concerns. Lumping scanning together with digital preservation causes confusion and I want to take this opportunity to shine a light on some of the differences between the two.
Scan all you want, but think about preservation, too.
While scanning can be a prelude to digital preservation, the two are distinct. It is quite possible to launch a scanning project, perhaps with temporary funds, and stop when everything is digitized. So now what about those poor digital files sitting on a hard drive somewhere? Do we forget about them? The answer, sadly, may be yes. As a colleague put it, these files are now orphans with no one to watch over them and ensure their future.
Many institutions see the immediate value of having materials available electronically. This is valid reasoning. Many researchers no longer want to come and see the materials. They want access from the comfort of their own couch and fuzzy slippers. But, in the hurry to meet user expectations, institutions may scan large quantities of materials without having a solid plan for preserving the digital images into the future.
Digital Preservation is an active, long-term commitment; scanning is a time-limited process.
Scanning is a process fixed in time. You scan something once and if you do it correctly you are done and can move on to the next project. Digital preservation is different, because it involves active management over time. If you scan and then forget about the digital file, it may not be usable to future users. You have to look at it as a long term commitment. Think of it in terms of our orphaned data being adopted by a loving digital preservation department somewhere.
The issues involved in digital preservation are extensive. Technology advancement, digital decay, data integrity and storage, and economic sustainability all come into play. These issues, along with the very rapidly growing volume of digital content, make digital preservation a moving target.
The goal should be collaboration–leave the baggage at the door!
Now I don’t want any readers to get the impression that I think scanning and digital preservation are mortal enemies. In fact, the best solution would be to make them best friends and collaborators.
Making good decisions in the scanning process can lead to easier and better digital preservation. Addressing issues such a file format and metadata in the scanning stage can greatly enhance the preservability of digital materials. The goal should be that one feeds into the other. Scanning should be a first step in a longer process, and, as with many journeys, the first step can make all the difference.