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Fundamentals of AV Preservation - Chapter 4

7.1 NSDA Levels of Digital Preservation | 7.2 Resources 

Section 7: Prioritization and Phasing 

Approaching digital preservation as a whole can be intimidating and overwhelming. Prioritizing approaches based on a digital preservation plan can assuage those feelings. Instead of thinking about the “foreverness” of digital preservation, consider it in periods of five- or ten-year increments. At the end of each period you have the option to make a decision about what to do in the following five or ten years. You can choose to do nothing, do the minimal amount necessary to maintain the option to decide again later, or you might choose to pursue a more robust solution, in whole or in part. 

The aphorism “perfect is the enemy of good” is a useful way of thinking about prioritizing and phasing digital preservation activities. Doing something now—for example, creating an inventory of your collections, developing a collection policy, or making a backup copy of your digital content—is better than waiting for the perfect technological solution along with the resources and organizational framework to support it. 

So, how to prioritize? Consider the following factors: 

  • Impact. Small steps can have great influence. Proper file naming, good metadata, and the use of open format wrappers and codecs are a few strategies that will have a significant impact on the longevity of your digital collections. They do not require complex systems and expensive technology to implement but they make digital content more findable, understandable, and usable over time.

  • Feasibility. The reality is that some digital preservation practices require technology and resources that not all institutions can staff or fund. Other activities may be too time consuming for one person to undertake. Figure out what you can manage right now, and do it. As your capacity and experience grows, you might  find that you gain support for more technologies and resources, making more complex activities more feasible. 

  • Urgency. An important consideration in making sure you are effectively using resources—especially if they are limited—is identifying what needs to be done right away. For example, moving digital content off of fragile or obsolescing media such as CDs and onto actively managed servers before data is lost may be of greatest urgency for your institution. Identify problems that, if you do not address them, will become more significant. Also, if opportunities arise, such as a one-time source of funding, be prepared to take advantage of them in a timely manner.  Of all the factors, urgency should take priority, especially if digital content is at immediate risk. 

Being flexible, putting what you know into practice, and taking a proactive approach today will establish a foundation that makes implementation and adoption of new technologies and programmatic preservation strategies possible and easier in the future.

7.1 NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation

Sometimes it is hard to know where to start. With so many standards and guidelines, beginning to address the challenge of long-term, active management of your digital content can be challenging. The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) had this challenge in mind when it developed the “Levels of Digital Preservation.” 

The “Levels of Digital Preservation” are a tiered set of recommendations for how organizations can begin to build or enhance their digital preservation activities.16 The Levels (LoDP) are meant to be an easy-to-use set of guidelines for those beginning to think about digital preservation, as well as for those with established programs that are ready to take the next step and enhance services. The focus of LoDP is on the content in digital collections and the infrastructure in place to manage it. LoDP is not designed to assess the overall readiness of digital preservation programs, like ISO 16363 does (see Section 1.4: Standards), because it specifically addresses technology and not issues related to organizational infrastructure. 

The LoDP guidelines are organized into five functional areas that are at the heart of digital preservation technology systems and which are addressed in more detail in Section 4: Active Management:

  • storage and geographic location
  • file fixity and data integrity
  • information security
  • metadata
  • file formats 

Each functional area is gauged against a set of criteria that help an institution identify their own level of digital preservation readiness. The four levels are progressive; the requirements in the first level are building blocks for levels two through four. Although level one is the foundation on which the other levels are built, sometimes an institution's readiness in another level is higher than it is in level one.

National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Levels of Digital Preservation (2013)
Credit: NDSA
  Level 1
(Protect your data)
Level 2
(Know your data)
Level 3
(Monitor your data)
Level 4
(Repair your data)
Storage and Geographic Location
  • Two complete copies that are not collocated
  • For data on heterogeneous media (optical discs, hard drives, etc.) get the content off the medium and into your storage system
  •  At least three complete copies 
  • At least one copy in a different geographic location
  • Document your storage system(s) and storage media and what you need to use them
  • At least one copy in a geographic location with a different disaster threat
  • Obsolescence monitoring process for your storage system(s) and media
  •  At least three copies in geographic locations with different disaster threats
  • Have a comprehensive plan in place that will keep files and metadata on currently accessible media or systems
File Fixity and Data Integrity
  • Check file fixity on ingest if it has been provided with the content
  • Create fixity info if it wasn't provided with the content
  • Check fixity on all ingests
  • Use write-blockers when working with original media
  • Virus-check all content
  • Check fixity of content at fixed intervals
  •  Maintain logs of fixity info; supply audit on demand
  • Ability to detect corrupt data
  • Virus-check all content
  • Check fixity of all content in response to specific events or activities
  •  Ability to replace/repair corrupted data
  • Ensure no one person has write access to all copies
Information Security
  • Identify who has read, write, move and delete authorization to individual files
  • Restrict who has those authorizations to individual files
  • Document access restrictions for content
  • Maintain logs of who performed what actions on files including deletions and preservation actions
  • Perform audit of logs
  • Inventory of content and its storage location
  • Ensure backup
  • Store administrative metadata
  • Store transformative metadata and log events
  • Store standard technical and descriptive metadata
  • Store standard preservation metadata
File Formats
  • When you can give input into the creation of digital files encourage use of a limited set of known open formats and codecs
  • Inventory of file formats in use
  • Monitor file format obsolescence issues
  • Perform format migrations, emulation and similar activities as needed


National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Levels of Digital Preservation 

The important thing, and what LoDP can offer to a new or growing digital preservation program, is the ability to prioritize the needs of an organization, effectively identifying what the organization is capable of attaining at the present moment. This means that the organization can be at a readiness level of three without having fulfilled all of the requirements of level two in the same category. After level one is addressed, the organization can shift its focus to filling in missing requirements in level two and progressing onward to level four. The move towards a programmatic solution should be continuous, fluid, and flexible with the understanding that a preservation program is being built that can withstand future organizational changes.

7.2 Resources

“The Five Organizational Stages of Digital Preservation.” Digital Libraries: A Vision for the 21st Century: A Festschrift in Honor of Wendy Lougee on the Occasion of her Departure from the University of Michigan, 2003.;view=fulltext

National Digital Stewardship Association (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation.

“Preservation Leaflet 1.4: Considerations for Prioritization.” NEDCC.


Section 8: Conclusion ›