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Introduction to Digital Preservation: Home

Subjects: Digital Library

Purpose of this guide [for research guide]

This guide is intended for Bodleian Libraries staff, students and researchers at the University of Oxford seeking support on digital preservation.

Use this guide to find out about journals, ebooks, eresources, other web resources, and open source tools.

Guide contents

Digital preservation is a topic with many faces.


This introductory guide contains:

  • Introduction to digital preservation
    • What is digital preservation?
    • Why does digital preservation matter?
    • Risks to digital assets
  • Models & standards
    • OAIS Reference Model
    • Digital Curation Lifecycle
    • Three-legged Stool of Digital Preservation
    • PREMIS - preservation metadata
  • File formats
    • Identification
    • Validation
    • file formats for preservation
  • Preservation actions
    • Digital forensics
    • Fixity
    • Migration
    • Emulation
    • Storage and information security
  • Further reading
    • Library resources
    • Web resources
    • Training and development
  • Glossary



Introduction to digital preservation

This guide contains background information on the theory and practice of digital preservation. Like traditional preservation and conservation are to books, so is digital preservation to digital assets.  Mould can destroy a book, but the very technology used to create and store our digital assets is also a threat to them.

This guide covers the many faces of digital preservation, including the terms, concepts, models, standards, actions, risks, and tools. Digital preservation is a broad field that encompasses everything from project management to technical skills. Not everyone working in digital preservation can possess every skill, but it is the combination of teams with complimentary skills that makes a successful digital preservation programme in an organization possible. Having an awareness of the theories behind digital preservation and the risks to digital assets is perhaps the most important universal skill. This guide contains enough information to provide a general awareness, but it also contains resources for further study.

a machine where a person is feeding it coloured shapes in one end and out comes coloured shapes from the other end of the machine. A person with a computer is also hooked up to the machine to control it.


Image Source: Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit, CC-BY-NC 3.0


Digital Preservation Officer

Profile Photo
Edith Halvarsson
Open Scholarship Department
Bodleian Libraries
Osney One Building
Osney Mead
Oxford OX20EW


Questions? Need help or advice about digital content? Contact the Digital Preservation team at:

Data, digital files or digital assets?

Throughout this guide and throughout digital preservation literature, there will be references to data or digital object, digital files or digital assets? What do they all mean? Are they any different?

Essentially no. They are all ways to describe the "digital things" we are trying to preserve. In many cases, the "digital things" can be made of multiple bit streams, which includes the digital file(s) and associated metadata.

DATA. A binary object of any kind. It could be a bitstreams or several bitstreams. It may have a file format type or not.

DIGITAL OBJECT. A conceptual term that describes an aggregated unit of digital content comprised of one or more related digital files. These related files might include metadata, master files and/or a wrapper to bind the pieces together.

DIGITAL FILE. Binary information that is available to a computer program. In other words, a digital file contains information that tells a computer program how to open and treat it. This might include a file header, file signature, embedded metadata, container signature or file extension.

DIGITAL ASSET. Can mean any of the things above. It is often referred to describe an individual digital file, though it is not limited to that. It is also used to help assign further value to digital objects, by referring to them as an asset to and organization.


Be aware that every organization might use these terms differently. It is important to understand what someone else means when they refer to a digital asset or data. Sometimes it's a very generic idea and other times it can be extremely specific. It is important when it comes to policies and procedures to be extremely clear about what you are using. It may be useful to refer back to the Glossary while reading the rest of the digital preservation LibGuide.