How to use the Digital Preservation Toolkit


This toolkit focusses on the development of digital preservation policy, plans, and procedures for existing digital holdings in Canadian cultural institutions. The kit includes templates for digital asset inventory, policy development, and plan development. It also includes guidelines for the creation and preservation of content, and a decision tree for the selection of content to be preserved.

Finally, examples of how the kit has been used can be found in three case studies on digital preservation in small, medium, and large scale Canadian museums.

Digital Preservation Toolkit Workflow

Diagram of the Digital Preservation Toolkit Workflow, is described in detail below

Diagram: Digital Preservation Toolkit Workflow

Use of the toolkit's components can be seen in the above workflow diagram, the details of which are discussed here. The top of the diagram outlines the toolkit resources in green (including the digital preservation inventory template, a decision tree, a policy framework, guidelines for content creators and preservers, and a digital preservation plan framework). The middle of the diagram outlines three major steps in the workflow process (including assessing the current situation, developing a digital preservation policy, and developing a digital preservation plan). Finally, the diagram shows documents in red, along the bottom, that are produced as a result of the workflow activity (including a digital asset inventory, a digital preservation policy, a digital preservation plan, an action plan, and procedures).

The first step in the workflow is to assess the current situation; namely to use the Digital Preservation Toolkit's Inventory Template (also available in Excel format) to identify what digital assets are held (or will soon be held), and to classify these into Digital Asset Groups. Groups are defined by how the digital assets were produced, how they are used, the format in which they are stored, who uses them, and similar terms. All the records in a collections management system for instance, may constitute a digital asset group. Likewise, photographs of museum holdings may constitute a second group. Once digital asset groups have been identified, the inventory template then asks a series of questions related to the impact of losing long-term access to these assets, as well as factors affecting the probability (i.e. the risk) of losing access. These questions help the institution identify any problems (such as the age of the media on which assets are stored, digital formats, security risks, etc.) that need to be addressed in the subsequent policy, plan, and procedures. The resulting document is a completed digital asset inventory that includes a summary of risks and the impact of losing long term access to these objects.

Once step one is complete, the institution can then decide if the creation of a preservation policy and plan is merited. If the answer is "yes", then workflow proceeds to step 2; the creation of a policy. The purpose of any policy is to answer the questions "What should be done?" and "Why?" In this case, the policy document should answer questions such as "What should be preserved?"; "For how long?"; "Who will have access to the assets?"; "How the assets can be used?"; and the like. Three documents from this toolkit are used; the policy framework (produced by Nancy McGovern), the digital preservation decision tree, and the digital asset inventory (produced in step 1). Other documents from the institution are also pulled into the process, and these are discussed in the policy framework. The result from this step is the production of a digital preservation policy, a living document that is revised as required by the institution.

The third step is production of a digital preservation plan. The plan answers the question "How can the digital preservation policy best be implemented?" This step draws on guidelines for content creators (PDF version), guidelines for content preservers (PDF version), (both produced by InterPARES), and the digital preservation plan framework. Development of a plan also requires the inventory and the policy that were produced in steps 1 and 2 of the workflow. Finally, the plan will require other information from the institution such as budget, human resources that can be dedicated to preservation work, an understanding of current technology and technological skills, and the like. The plan framework also makes reference to existing practices and standards, which the institution can draw upon according to its needs and abilities. The result of step three is the production of a digital preservation plan (which is in actuality a case study of the institution's digital preservation needs), an action plan (which is the plan and associated technology that was selected as a result of the case study), and procedures (which are details of how the plan will be executed on a daily basis).

Finally, the plan and policy should be implemented, and this includes both the initial setup stage as well as the routines that are carried out on a regular basis.

It should be noted in the workflow diagram that there are black (workflow) arrows feeding back one step from both the implementation stage and from the plan development stage. Stepwise refinement (or even wholesale revision) of a previous stage can result for various reasons. Some of these include:

  • Budget, existing skills, or available technology will not allow a given policy to be implemented as described;
  • An understanding of what can be done (a matter of policy) has changed as a result of software selection activities done in the plan development stage; and
  • It becomes apparent at the implementation stage (either for human resource, technological, or budget reasons) that a plan or policy is not tenable.

The inventory, plan and policy are also living documents and may change with time as a result of:

  • A change to the digital asset inventory (such as new asset groups, or a dramatic change to the volume of material);
  • The advent of new technology; or
  • Changes to budget, or the institution's mandate;

Further information on use of the workflow, and examples of how the toolkit were used can be found in three case studies, including:

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