Preservation metadata

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Preservation metadata is an essential component of most digital preservation strategies. As an increasing proportion of the world’s information output shifts from analog to digital form, it is necessary to develop new strategies to preserve this information for the long-term. Preservation metadata is information that supports and documents the digital preservation process. Preservation metadata is sometimes considered a subset of technical or administrative metadata.

Preservation metadata stores technical details on the format, structure and use of the digital content, the history of all actions performed on the resource including changes and decisions, the authenticity information such as technical features or custody history, and the responsibilities and rights information applicable to preservation actions.[1]

Preservation metadata is access-centered and should accomplish four themes: include details about files and instructions for use; document all updates or actions that have occurred to an object; show provenance and demonstrate current and future custody; list details on the individual(s) who are responsible for the preservation of the object.[2]

Preservation metadata often includes the following information:

  • Provenance: Who has had custody/ownership of the digital object?
  • Authenticity: Is the digital object what it purports to be?
  • Preservation activity: What has been done to preserve the digital object?
  • Technical environment: What is needed to render, interact with and use the digital object?
  • Rights management: What intellectual property rights must be observed?[3]

Digital materials require constant maintenance and migration to new formats as technology changes. In order to survive into the future, digital objects need preservation metadata that can exist independently from the systems which were used to create them. Without preservation metadata, digital material will be lost. “While a print book with a broken spine can be easily re-bound, a digital object that has become corrupted or obsolete is often impossible (or prohibitively expensive) to repair”.[4] Preservation metadata provides the vital information which will make “digital objects self-documenting across time.”[3]

Preservation metadata is a new and developing field. The Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS) is a broad conceptual model which many organizations have followed in developing new preservation metadata element sets.[5] Early projects in preservation metadata in the library community include CEDARS, NEDLIB, The National Library of Australia and the OCLC/RLG Working Group on Preservation Metadata.[1] Following on from this work, the Preservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies (PREMIS) Working Group created the "Data Dictionary for Preservation Metadata: Final Report of the PREMIS Working Group" which was released in May 2005.[6] The ongoing work of maintaining, supporting, and coordinating future revisions to the PREMIS Data Dictionary is undertaken by the PREMIS Editorial Committee, hosted by the Library of Congress.[3]

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