Digital Preservation Policy Framework for Museums and Galleries

Ern Bieman


The information in this document is based on the current understanding of the issues presented. It does not necessarily apply in all situations, nor do any represented activities ensure complete protection as described. Although reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date, the publisher, Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), does not provide any guarantee with respect to this information, nor does it assume any liability for any loss, claim or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use of or reliance upon the information. CHIN does not endorse or make any representations about any products, services or materials detailed in this document or on external websites referenced in this document; these products, services or materials are, therefore, used at your own risk.

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The processes for digital preservation in museums and galleries borrow heavily from the standards and best practices used by digital archivists. However, there are differences. The biggest is that museums and galleries tend to have information systems that are already set up to catalogue physical collections, typically by using collections management software. Digital archives, by contrast, tend to employ software based on the widely accepted open archival information system (OAIS) framework reference model to ensure that a digital asset remains authoritative, authentic, reliable and useable and to ensure that the integrity of the object is preserved. Clearly, archival and collections management systems are not meant to accomplish the same tasks, but there is overlap. Thus, establishing both systems in an institution that has no formal mandate to manage a digital archive often involves an impractical (and in the case of smaller institutions, impossible) level of effort and resources.

Since 2012, the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) has promoted the use of the Digital Preservation Policy Framework: Development Guideline Version 2.1, developed by Nancy Y. McGovern. CHIN continues to support and promote this framework. We recommend it where the management of a formal archive is consistent with the institution’s mandate and where resources to manage such an archive exist.

For museums and galleries that are not mandated to manage a formal digital archive and that do not have the resources to manage one in addition to their collections management system, CHIN has produced the following policy framework. We acknowledge the 2012 guideline, after which some of these sections are modelled.

What is a digital preservation policy and why is it important?

All policies answer the questions “What should we do?” and “Why should we do it?”

A digital preservation policy is a high-level document that identifies which digital resources should be preserved for long-term access and under what circumstances and conditions. It also clearly indicates why such preservation is important in the context of the institution’s mandate and activities.

A digital preservation policy is important because it can be used

Who should be involved in the creation of a digital preservation policy?

Representatives from the following groups should all be involved, to varying degrees, in policy development:

In small museums, all these categories may be represented by as few as one or two people, since employees in small institutions tend to fill many roles. In large institutions, representation could involve significantly more people.

When should a policy be created or revised?

The policy is created in Step 2 of the toolkit workflow, after having taken stock of the current digital assets in the museum. That is to say, as a second step during the initial processes of

Some sections of the policy must be created prior to Step 3 (plan selection and development), whereas other components of the policy (those that justify the course of action taken) must be completed after that plan has been developed. For each component of the policy described in the next section, clear indication is given as to when that section should be started and when it should be completed.

Contents of a digital preservation policy for museums and galleries

The following is a summary of the components that should be found in any digital preservation policy document for museums or galleries.

Section 1: cover page

This section is started during the initial draft of a policy (Step 2 of the toolkit workflow) and is finalized upon completion of the policy and plan.

Cover page components include the following:

Section 2: problem statement

This section is started and generally completed during the initial draft of the digital preservation policy. The term “problem statement” is borrowed from the business management world and does not necessarily mean that the current state of affairs is faulty. Instead, the term simply refers to the issue (or issues) to be addressed by the policy and ensuing plan.

This section is accompanied by supporting references to indicate where the problems were identified. They could come from the following sources:

The problem statement should not imply a specific solution.

Section 3: scope of goals and objectives

This section is created and completed during the initial draft of a digital preservation policy. However, revisions may be required once a plan is selected.

The section states the overarching goal of the policy (typically something along the lines of “ensuring digital assets are made accessible in the long-term”) and is then further fleshed out with more measurable objectives that qualify this goal. An example could be “making copies of digital assets freely accessible to the general public.”

This section will also serve as a starting point for the requirements that will be defined during the plan development stage (Step 3 of the toolkit workflow). As such, considerable thought should be given to this section, and as many stakeholders as possible should be consulted. Objectives should always focus on the issue (what needs to be done and why) and not on a specific solution (how something will be done).

This section should be used to identify what is clearly out of scope. An example could be “this policy and the ensuing plan do not encompass greater issues related to the museum’s IT strategy.” Stating what is out of scope will help better define the focus of the policy and plan, and it will reduce the likelihood of the project succumbing to scope creep (where the scope of a project continues to grow). Out-of-scope issues may still be relevant to the chosen digital preservation solution (for instance, the resulting digital preservation plan might need to mesh with the museum’s new IT strategy), but these out-of-scope issues do not need to be resolved in the digital preservation policy.

Section 4: compliancy statement

This section should be completed during the initial draft of the policy (Step 2 of the toolkit workflow).

This section outlines which standards, principles and best practices the policy and plan will follow. Unlike the Digital Preservation Policy Framework: Development Guideline Version 2.1, compliance may not be to the OAIS framework reference model. Instead, compliance can be to any commonly accepted digital preservation standard, guideline or practice. Examples include materials found in CHIN’s Digital Preservation Toolkit, a digital preservation metadata standard and materials taught in a digital preservation course. By stating the materials with which you intend to comply, you indicate the degree to which you are committed to following standards and best practices. Be sure, however, that your chosen solution does indeed comply with the documents mentioned in this section.

Section 5: reference to a chosen digital preservation plan

This section is completed after the action plan (Step 3 of the toolkit workflow) has been selected and developed. In it, evidence is given that appropriate due diligence has been carried out in the following categories:

Section 6: triggers for revision

This section is completed after the plan (Step 3 of the toolkit workflow) has been completed.

It indicates when this digital preservation policy should be reviewed and revised. Typical triggers stated here include the following:

Section 7: definitions

The digital preservation policy should be readable by any staff member, including the institution’s executive. Any technical term that is specific to digital preservation, and which may not be commonly known, should be included in this section.

Section 8: references

Any reference to external or internal documents should be included in this section.

Addendum: digital asset retention and disposition schedule

If all digital assets are to be preserved indefinitely (keeping in mind that there is work in doing this), then this should be stated in the digital preservation policy’s goals and objectives section. In this case, no addendum is required.

Barring that, an addendum that states how long each type of digital asset should be retained can be included in this section. A simple way of stating this information is to include a digital asset retention and disposition schedule, which consists of a table listing the institution’s digital asset categories (determined in Step 1 of the toolkit workflow) and the number of years these items should be retained.

Another method would be to categorize objects into meaningful groups such as “Objects of Transitory Nature,” “Objects of Enduring Value” and “Objects of Business Value.” Then, provide retention rules for each of these categories.

Regardless of the method used, this addendum should be relatively short in length. It is typically one or two pages.


CHIN would like to thank Paul Durand of the Canadian War Museum and Jean-Luc Vincent of Parks Canada for their review and contributions.


authentic object
Object that has the quality of being genuine or being what it purports to be. An electronic copy of a newspaper article is authentic if it indeed is a copy (image or text) of the article referred to in its metadata.
object with integrity
Object that was preserved without alteration or, at least, without alteration of any information that the object represents. A digital copy of a newspaper article, for instance, has integrity if it can be established that the information represented in the copy has not been altered in any way.
reliable object
Object that is associated with a complete, accurate and controlled record. An electronic copy of a newspaper article, for instance, is reliable object if it is a complete copy of the article and if all information (metadata) about the article has been detailed in full.
useable object
Object that can be easily accessed. This refers to properties such as their availability, discoverability, searchability and completeness.


Canadian Heritage Information Network. How to Use the Digital Preservation Toolkit. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2018.

Lee, B. “Authenticity, Accuracy and Reliability: Reconciling Arts-related and Archival Literature.” (PDF format) (discussion paper, InterPARES 2 Project, Domain 2, School of Music, University of Windsor, Ontario, September 2005).

McGovern, N. Y. Digital Preservation Policy Framework: Development Guideline Version 2.1. Canadian Heritage Information Network, n.d. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

© Government of Canada, Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2021

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Cat. No.: CH44-170/2021E-PDF
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