Digital Preservation Plan Framework for Cultural Heritage Institutions

See also: Digital Preservation Toolkit

A Digital Preservation Plan is a core document to any digital preservation activity. It describes actionable steps to be taken to preserve digital resources within an organization (the Action Plan), and documents how this Action Plan was chosen. Unlike a Digital Preservation Policy, which provides high-level guidance, the Action Plan describes an actual workflow, and it makes reference to specific technology that will be used in the workflow. Because of this, the Digital Preservation Plan is produced after drafting the institution’s Digital Preservation Policy.

The format recommended in this framework is loosely based on that proposed by Becker, Kulovits, Guttenbrunner, Strodle, Rauber & Hofman in a paper that describes the use of “objective trees” to formally document and quantify metrics for the selection of a digital preservation Action Plan. While their process is consistent with creating a Trusted Digital Repository, it is not practical for smaller institutions. Medium and large sized organisations should consult the Becker paper as well as the framework below before choosing a format for their own Digital Preservation Plan.

External documents on Digital Preservation Plan Standards, Best Practices, and Recommendations

The following external items are not components of the Digital Preservation Plan, but should be considered throughout the development of each of its sections:

Two documents are of particular importance. These are the Research Library Group’s definition of a Trusted Digital Repository (TDR) (PDF) and the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) (PDF) reference model. The TDR document focuses on the environment within an organization responsible for maintaining the repository. By contrast, the OAIS reference model focuses on standard functions within an archive. Both these documents are considered in the Digital Preservation Policy Framework, but awareness of them should be maintained throughout development of the Action Plan.

Further to this, the chosen Action Plan will need to consider best practices and recommendations such as the Creator Guidelines (PDF) and the Preserver Guidelines (PDF) produced by the InterPARES 2 project.

Your institution may further identify best practices or recommendations from your community. An excellent venue for sharing these is the Canmuse-l listserv

Digital Preservation Plan Template

Contents of the Preservation Plan are outlined in the Table of Contents, and are described in detail below:

Plan Identification

This section (included on the cover page) outlines at a minimum:

  • The name of the plan.
  • The Date that the plan was most recently modified.
  • It may also contain a list of previous approved versions (if any) and the dates for which they were active.

Status and Triggers

This section which may also be found on the cover page includes the status of the plan; indicating for instance if the plan is in development, if it has been approved, or if it is no longer active.

It may also contain names of those responsible for creating the plan, and a signature field for approval of the Action Plan contained therein.

If the plan was created as a result of a new event (a trigger) such as a new type of content in the institution, a new collections management system, or a similar reason, this should be listed here as well.

Reference to Digital Preservation Policy

Your Digital Preservation Policy answers the question “what must be done” which is often referred to as a Business Requirement. This must be addressed before one can proceed to answering the question “How something will be done”; which is the point of an Action Plan.

Several considerations and constraints (including legal obligations) already considered in the Digital Preservation Policy need not be restated in the Preservation Plan document. However, constraints to “how something will be done” (a topic for the Action Plan) are considered in the next section, below.

For the sake of brevity, it is sufficient in this section, to make reference to the Policy, and to summarize the Policy Statement (i.e. the statement addressing what must be done).

Summary of Environment & Constraints

This section outlines constraints on how the Preservation Policy might be carried out given the nature of your institution's environment and the resources at your disposal for this project. A number of detailed considerations should be summarized under the following categories:

Organizational Structure

This requires an understanding of current responsibilities and accountabilities within the organization; i.e. who is accountable to whom and for what activities. The resulting Action Plan will have to be sensitive to the existing structure, or it will have to involve obtaining consent to change it.

Current Practices and Obligations

This includes a description of any current organizational procedures workflows, or references to contracts and agreements that may affect a digital preservation plan. Note that contracts can be a constraint on both the question “what must be done” and “how something will be done”, and thus consideration of them may appear in both the Preservation Policy and the Preservation Plan.

Organizational Readiness

This refers to the organization’s awareness, attitudes, and expectations (as per documented sources) where digital preservation is concerned.

Financial Constraints

This defines the limits of an Action Plan both in what can be procured (technology, services, etc…) during start-up of a digital preservation project, and what can be sustainably be afforded in the long term.

It should be noted (particularly in light of financial, human, and technological considerations) that the Preservation Plan can be used not only to choose a course of Action that is feasible with existing constraints, but to advocate for further resources should a more desirable course of action be within reach of the institution’s (or governing body’s) budget.

Human Resources

This subject is also considered in the Digital Preservation Policy. The cost of training should be taken into account – and this will go hand-in hand with the type of technology chosen for the archival process. Ready-made off-the-shelf solutions may have limitations, but they are often more widely used, and thus easier to find support and training.

Technical Constraints

This consideration is primarily about the technology currently at hand. Future technology should be considered in the various Courses of Action to be considered.

Description of the Collection

This also is an environmental constraint, but is given its own section, due to its importance. Reference to the inventory information collected using the Digital Resource Inventory Template will capture much of what is required for this section - if this template has not already been used, it should be at this point.

Examples of digital resources from each group identified using the inventory template should also be listed here, as these will be used to evaluation potential technologies and workflows for the Action Plan.

Relevant Characteristics of Digital Objects

This section summarizes all the relevant aspects of objects in each Digital Resource Group that require preservation. It includes references to appearance of the objects, such as the colour depth, and resolution of images, information about fonts. For non-static objects (such as a web page with forms, or similar interactive components), it may also include relevant characteristics of the object’s behaviour. This section is also often referred to as Technical Requirements.

User Requirements

This section outlines how those contributing resources for preservation and those require access to these preserved resources must do so according to their own workflows. As such, this section requires a clear understanding of these workflows. While both user “wants” (i.e. what is desirable) and “needs” (i.e. what is required) can be taken into account, it is important at this stage to distinguish between the two.

Consideration of Potential Action Plans

In this section, potential solutions are considered, and sub-components of this section are repeated for each possible solution. Where possible, technology is tested using sample records from each group of digital resources (a multipart solution may be required if resources are sufficiently different). When it is not possible to test software, this should be clearly stated along with the method that was used in lieu of a hands-on test. Sub-components for this section are:

  • Proposed Workflow (including diagrams for ingestion, ongoing management, and access)
  • Proposed Technology (hardware and software)
  • Required Human Resources
  • Summary of Cost (provide breakdowns for implementation of the system, per unit cost for ingestion, annual per unit cost for management of a resource, and per unit cost to access a resource)
  • Results of Test (or assessment for technology that was not evaluated)
  • Discussion of Proposed Solution

This last section should include a detailed analysis of the proposed option. This includes at the least, a discussion of Cost, Benefits, Impact, Risks and Opportunities. The discussion should also include the degree to which the proposed solution meets requirements, and constraints. Any areas where the solution fails to meet these should be addressed.

Preservation Action Plan

This section should identify the chosen action plan, discuss the reason for choosing it, elaborate on the plan, and identify what future events might trigger review of the plan.

Identification and Justification of Chosen Action Plan

One of the plans considered in the previous section is named here, and the reasons for choosing it over the other options are clearly identified.

In addition to the information already included for this option under “Consideration of Potential Action Plans” the following items should be added:

Roles and Responsibilities

Indicate major responsibilities for each member of the team implementing the project, as well as for those who are responsible in maintaining the preserved resources. Include the roles of content creators as well.

Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure outlines major tasks required, who is responsible for carrying out the tasks, and by when. Milestones, and deliverables are also included. Separate work breakdown structures should be created for the implementation of the system and for each major component of the OAIS reference model (preservation planning, ingest, archival storage, data management, access, and administration).

Detailed Discussion of How Resources are Ingested, Managed and Accessed

This should include a discussion of technical characteristics (such as what metadata is included with a new digital resource), process characteristics (such as how metadata is to be provided), and characteristics of the preserved object (i.e. outline what is preserved and what is not). Discuss also what technology is used to ensure the resource is accessible in the long-term (eg: refreshing, migration, replication, emulation, or encapsulation).

Detailed Costs and Funding Sources

This should include a breakdown of all costs for implementation, as well as a separate budget (with funding sources) for ongoing maintenance of the preserved resources.

Triggers for Action Plan Revision

This section outlines potential events that may merit revision of the chosen Action Plan; e.g. a change to budget for long term preservation costs, changes to technology, etc…

Glossary on Digital Preservation Plan

Business Requirement:
A high-level business objective of the organization.
The replicating of functionality of an obsolete system. This could be done at the hardware level or the software level.
The “wrapping” of data with all information necessary to access and interpret the information within the data.
The transferring of data to newer system environments. This could include new file formats, new operating systems, or new physical carriers (media).
The transfer of data between two types of the same storage medium so there is no loss of information due to degradation of the medium or the preservation of information on that medium.
The creation of duplicate copies of data on one or more systems.

References on Digital Preservation Plan

Becker, Kulovits, Guttenbrunner, Strodl, Rauber & Hofman, Systematic planning for digital preservation: Evaluating potential strategies and building preservation plans., International Journal on Digital Libraries (IJDL), December 2009. (PDF). Accessed Feb 2013.

Research Library Group’s definition of a Trusted Digital Repository (TDR) (PDF). Accessed February 2013.

Open Archival Information System (OAIS) (PDF) reference model. Accessed February 2013.

Creator Guidelines (PDF) InterPARES 2 project. Accessed February 2013.

Preserver Guidelines (PDF) InterPARES 2 project. Accessed February 2013.

Christoph Becker & Andreas Rauber, Four cases, three solutions: Preservation plans for images, Vienna University of Technology, Austria, April 2011, (PDF). Accessed February 2013.

Contact information for this web page

This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on

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