Why There is No Single Preservation Strategy

The following are some thoughts that I had about why there isn’t one digital preservation strategy that can be applied to all digital preservation programs.  As wonderful as it would be to find one standardized solution that fits everyone’s needs, it’s essentially an impossibility.  What’s below is something I wrote up for some coursework, but I thought I’d share it here, too.

There are two ways to answer the question of why there is no universally applicable digital preservation strategy.  The first is at the institutional level, and the second is at the level of the digital objects intended for preservation.

Digital preservation efforts so far have been tied to institutions interested in maintaining access to digital objects over time.  Being tied to an institution for funding and support will come with governance, policies, administrations, departments units, stakeholders to please, and service missions which will all be very specific to the institution.  These factors will all be guiding principles in the way a digital preservation strategy will be created at a given institution.  And this is fine; Pennock (2006) even goes so far as to state that “digital preservation policies are most effective when integrated into the overall organisational policy framework.”  But this would prevent a universal digital preservation model from being possible simply due to all the “personalizations” that would need to take place in order to meet the needs of the institution as well as the capabilitibubbleses allowed by whatever funding is available.

The second way to answer the question of why there is not a single digital preservation method that can be applied to everything is at the level of the digital objects.  When it comes to determining the actual preservation method, some ways work better than others depending on the type of file at hand, and the needs associated with that individual file.  For example, van der Hoeven (2004) points out that migration is an effective preservation method for widely supported file formats, but it might not be good for files that must maintain high levels of authenticity.  He even goes on to state that “…no one size fits all solution is possible.  Digital documents differ from each other in too many ways and are used for many different purposes by many different users.”
If we are to come up with an effective digital preservation strategy (at both the institutional and document levels), we must remain aware of the options, and expect to employ more than one method, strategy, and tool set.

Pennock, M. (2006).  “JISC Briefing paper: digital preservation, continued access to authentic digital assets.”  Retrieved September 30, 2009 from
van der Hoeven, J. R. (2004). “Permanent Access Technology for the virtual heritage.”  Retrieved September 30, 2009 from http://jeffrey.famvdhoeven.nl/dd/Researchtask%20IBM%20TU%20Delft%20-%20J.R.%20van%20der%20Hoeven.pdf
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license.