Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 June 2018
Obsolescence is inevitable. Some objects are built to last longer than others, but all eventually become unusable. Preservation actions may be taken proactively to buy as much time as possible between interventions, or reactively to restore usability to compromised artefacts or content. Because these activities are generally perceived to be problematic and expensive, research agendas for digital preservation underscore the need to ‘reduce the amount of human intervention in digital archiving processes’ (Hedstrom, 2003b). Automation will be fundamental to archive electronic resources on a large scale, but it is highly unlikely that technology is going to make preservation cheap.
Preservation stakeholders – the ‘designated communities’ in OAIS parlance – serve cultural heritage materials well by acknowledging that preservation is not free. Even if digital object ingest, normalization, validation, monitoring, repair, transformation and other preservation actions become fully automated, and even if storage costs continue to decline, digital preservation is going to cost something.
How much will it cost? And who will pay whom? What terms and conditions will govern transactions for preservation services? For feebased services, what happens to content for which organizations cannot pay the ‘entry fee’ for archiving, or when they stop paying the ongoing maintenance fees?
Policy guides and other documentation from emerging preservation digital repositories provide preliminary answers to these and other questions about preservation costs. Professionally managed preservation repositories represent digital preservation as a business, where long-term use of stored objects will result from quid pro quo transactions between object owners (or stewards) and preservation professionals. Object owners appraise content, create or transform their objects to repository-compliant (or recommended) formats, produce metadata (lots of it) and pay fees; in exchange, repository managers provide an organizational commitment to digital preservation, make multiple copies, and monitor data, systems and obsolescence.
Repository terms and conditions may appear to be complex and onerous, and therefore needlessly expensive, but they have been conceived to make preservation affordable in the long term. Digital objects are inherently fragile, in part due to the rapid pace of manufactured hardware and software obsolescence. Strategies such as emulation, migration and universal virtual computing are being implemented to ensure that content remains usable.