Collection Care blog

03 September 2013

The Twelve Principles of Digital Preservation (and a cartridge in a repository…)

Did you know that our digital library store already holds over 11,500,000 items? That’s over 280 terabytes of collection content, and more is added every day!

Our blog has so far focussed on how Collection Care colleagues work to preserve the Library’s physical collections, but the Library also works to preserve our digital content making collections accessible for future users. Digital content ranges from digital audio/video recordings, to personal digital archives, eJournals and archived websites. The preservation of digital content is spearheaded by the Digital Preservation Unit in Collection Care. Head of Digital Preservation Maureen Pennock introduces the role of the team and outlines the Twelve Principles of Digital Preservation:

The Digital Preservation Unit in Collection Care provides guidance, advice and support for operational colleagues across the Library to ensure our digital collections are preserved efficiently and effectively. We are a small team with a big mission – our digital collections are growing day by day, and preservation actions must be implemented right throughout the lifecycle, from creation onwards, if we are to preserve authentic and understandable content.

An image of a section of Digital storage server. The visible parts of the server are silvery-grey, mounted into a dark grey or black bases, on a tower structure. There is a glass or perspex door on the right of the image that may enclose the visible section.
The diversity of digital material and frequent changes in computer technology present ongoing challenges for long term preservation and access

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Following on from the launch of the Library’s Digital Preservation Strategy earlier in the year, which defined our four strategic priorities for 2013 – 2016, we are pleased to release our Twelve Principles of Digital Preservation. These principles define at a very high level how we as a Library will approach the preservation of our digital collections:

1. We integrate curatorial assessments of our digital collection content into preservation decisions, so that technical activities support curatorial requirements for the collections

2. We preserve metadata about our digital collections, so that we may understand and preserve the collections over time

3. We preserve the provenance of our digital collection content, so that we understand and can demonstrate its authenticity over time

4. We record any modifications to digital collection content (e.g. preservation action, normalisation) during the lifecycle, so that we can understand and demonstrate its integrity over time

5. We consistently apply and document our application of metadata standards, so that future generations can understand our collections

6. We maintain file-level integrity of our digital collections, so that we can protect against loss and damage

7. We preserve original files in our long term repository, alongside any other required representations of the content, so that we maintain the original artefacts acquired or deposited into our care as a ground truth representation of the content for future, currently unknown, preservation and access scenarios

8. We maintain Preservation Master copies of collection content in our long term repository, so that the format-based risks of preservation over time are minimised

9. We maintain and implement preservation plans for our digital collections, so that preservation actions are reliable and based on a holistic understanding of the collections and their context

10. We implement comprehensive end-to-end workflows, so that we may consistently manage and preserve our digital collections across the entire lifecycle

11. We regularly monitor our digital collection content for emergent preservation risks, so that we may mitigate against them

12. We integrate quality assurance checks into the lifecycle where appropriate, so that the authenticity and integrity of the content is maintained

These Principles are the first output of a workstream dedicated to defining the Library’s digital preservation standards. More work is already underway to define the policies that will be associated with each principle and, in turn, the resulting requirements for meeting that policy. This workstream is part of a larger programme of work being undertaken in digital preservation to ensure our strategic priorities are met. Other activities include:

• a collection profiling exercise to provide top level descriptions and preservation direction for different types of digital collections (eg e-theses, web archives, ebooks, AV material etc)

• a risk and preservation condition assessment exercise for content temporarily stored outside of our long term digital repository

• a file format assessment exercise to define preferred preservation formats for different types of content

• a tool assessment exercise to evaluate the performance of different tools on library content so that evidence-based recommendations can be made on which tools to use in which context

• a training programme to ensure colleagues across the library are aware of digital preservation responsibilities, requirements, and recommendations relevant whilst content is in their care

A technician holding a piece of paper or card, is standing next to a computer monitor on a table, which itself in on the right hand side of the Zeutschel Scanner. The Technician is wearing a maroon shirt and dark trousers. The computer monitor is displaying opened pages that have been scanned. The scanner, which has a bright red girder structure rising up and joined to the camera, which is mounted in a grey unit overhanging the glass table. Underneath the glass are items to be scanned.
Digitisation projects are increasing in frequency each year highlighting the need for preservation measures.

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The Principles are designed to help ensure that preservation is considered in appropriate projects and initiatives regardless of whether or not the digital preservation unit is actively involved. Compliance checks will be initiated as part of a Collection care monitoring service. In coming months we will be working closely with other colleagues across the Library in defining appropriate and realistic policies, followed by requirements.

We’ll post our progress to the blog in due course. Watch this space..!

Maureen Pennock


Thanks for this article, its really fascinating, and answers many of the questions I raise in this blog post about changes in file structures within cycles of coding and encoding.

Was just wondering how you backup the 280TB of data?

I'd be interested to know the existing and emerging standards regarding data back up, and time-frames on migration/ refreshing digital collections.

Do you know what other large
archives do? I expect the british library is fairly exceptional in that it is well resourced.

Thanks again for this article!

Hello Debi,

All our digital assets are backed up on servers in various locations and are routinely monitored for file integrity. Our Digital Preservation Strategy lists Strategic Priority 1: Ensure our digital repository can store and preserve our collections for the long term, so backups are very important to us

Regarding standards and migration you can read a useful overview of the Digital Preservation team's approach at

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