E is for ecology

A continuing series of digital preservation topics organized alphabetically.


I have always wanted to write something entitled, Everything I know about digital preservation, I learned in my garden.   I think it is because I have always perceived the practice and development around digital preservation to be organic.  A garden is the interaction among insects and birds, microorganisms, weather conditions, soil chemistry, plants and the gardener and results in an evolving landscape responding to seasonal change.  The digital preservation landscape has grown from many organizations cultivating  practices for digital preservation in the midst of very rapid technical, social and economic change.  The horizon we saw in 2001 was vastly different than what we see in 2011.

Azaleas in Spring

Azaleas in spring. M. Anderson.

I recently found a paper discussing the relevance of evolutionary theory for digital preservation that expresses some interesting ideas about the application of an ecological view to digital preservation. The authors state, “Taking an evolutionary view will …make clear that there is no such thing as digital permanence for eternity: some objects only have better chances to survive than others.”  

One of  the most cited documents for understanding the functions of digital preservation is the OAIS  reference model. Some interpret it rather literally, but I like to see it as a picture of an ecosystem of different actors and processes across the life of digital content. Each actor contributes to the whole in unique fashion; each part of the process influences another. Ensuring long-term access to digital information is everybody’s job–the creator who makes choices about the original file type and characteristics; the steward who assesses the risks and manages the long-term care; and the user whose expectations shape the decisions and practices of the creators and stewards.

The ecology of digital preservation  is the aggregation of skills and expertise, as well as organizational resilience that  create the best environment for long-term access to digital information. It is the linking together of the diverse and complementary endeavors that form the whole system.  Those endeavors are described daily on this blog.


  1. Kathy Edwards
    October 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I have not heard the term digital preservation before? It totally titillate’s my imagination as I work approximately eight hours plus a day on my computer, while having a profound deep connection with nature. I go for long walks as often as I can.

    I will stay tuned, I am following you on twitter.
    My twitter handle is @ecoartsawards

    Cheers ~
    Kathy Edwards

  2. Tomasz Czarnecki
    November 19, 2011 at 4:59 am

    It’s an interesting thought about the evolution of digital preservation – i have my own small library of images – thousands still on film (which I slowly scan to digital formats) and then there was tape storage, which became obsolete in my case very quickly, then CDs, but there are too many of them, and access becomes cumbersome, DVDs which are about as usable as CDs – with a little better access due to capacity – instead of 700 CD’s i’d have 100DVDs – but still, finding anything “offline” is really hard. BluRay does not really fix the issue, as the problem lies not in the capacity, but in the access – fortunately cost of hard drives dropped so low, that now – every so and then I just buy another TB drive – which is equivalent to what – 1500 CDs worth of storage – and plug it in (then I have to upgrade my power supply, but that’s another story). Also, I found that hard disks are a lot more reliable than CDs. So in a sense, my evolution started with HDD, wnet through all sort of recording media, and ended up with HDD, only massively larger :)

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