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Introduction to Digital Preservation: Risks to digital assets

Subjects: Digital Library

Risks to digital materials

Drawing of floppy disk with worm eating itRisks to digital materials range from technological to organizational and cultural. There are internal and external risks to consider. The rapid pace of technology and the growing rate of digital information (sometimes called the data deluge) are urgent risks that digital preservation must mitigate against. While not an exhaustive list, below are some of the risks to our digital materials at Bodleian Libraries:

  • Obsolescence

Hardware, software and storage media are constantly being superseded by newer and better models. This means that digital materials are at risk of no longer being usable when the software and hardware they rely on become obsolete. When the storage media that digital materials are saved on becomes obsolete, recovery of the material can become difficult and costly.

  • Transfer failure & corruption 

This is a high risk and transfer of digital materials happens often during its life. Often transfer failure is not discovered until it is too later to recover. Transfer failure can occur at any stage, including the copying of digital materials to backup tapes. System failure can also lead to the corruption of digital materials, not just transfer failures.

  • File formats & complex digital objects

New and complex file formats can be tricky to make preservation decisions about. Some file formats might not be supported accurately by most available software, or they might not be well formed and this can cause issues in the future.

  • Storage media failure 

Storage media often fails due to a lack of refreshment policies. All storage media has a shelf life and must be refreshed regularly or failures can happen. This not only leads to corruption or complete loss of digital materials, but can cause a downtime in services while restores must happen from tape backups.

  • Human error & inappropriate access (deletion, alteration, corruption, bad management)

These are mistakes we cause and inappropriate access can lead to accidents like alteration or deletion. This is something that can be damaging when considering compliance and data protection issues. It is important to control access to content internally not just externally in order to prevent against human error and compliance breeches.

  • Non compliance

What do we have to comply with? It is a risk if we do not meet our legal obligations. This includes laws, policies (internal and external), and standards. Non compliance may result in financial loss, loss of reputation and trust, which can mean that we become an undesirable repository for material so that donors and vendors may look elsewhere.

  • Institutional risk

Lack of funding and political climate can be a risk. There is also a risk using third parties for preservation services as they can go out of business.

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Image credit: Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit