Devising strategies for digital sustainability

Recently, over 30 experts and policy makers gathered in Abu Dhabi to speed up the efforts of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme for digital sustainability and digital preservation. The meeting of the PERSIST-project team was organised by Dr Abdulla El Reyes, Director-General of the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates and Chairman of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme.

Participants of the Persist Meeting in Abu Dhabi.

Although our ‘information society’ is digitalising at an enourmous speed, globally speaking the preservation of digital information is still in its infancy. Software is evolving so fast that older information is barely accessible today, because the software is no longer available. If no-one acts the world is racing towards a future of ‘digital amnesia’ in which it will literally lose its memory.

The meeting of the PERSIST Steering Committee in Abu Dhabi yielded the following results:

Selection Guidelines

First, the group welcomed the Content Selection Guidelines which were recently finalized by PERSIST under coordination of Ingrid Parent, the former Chair of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). This tool will be used by UNESCO to assist governments and memory institutions worldwide in choosing what to keep and what not to keep in today’s overload of digital information. Since the launch of the Content selection Guidelines, translations in Arab (courtesy of Mr Aziz Abid) and French (courtesy of Mr Gerald Grunberg) have been made.

Platform

Secondly, the members planned the creation of a global UNESCO PERSIST Heritage Software Platform. This platform aims to motivate ICT industry partners like Microsoft to keep ‘old’ software available so that we don't lose access to files produced with this old software. This is important as the thoughts we wrote on floppy discs and in Word Perfect not so long ago will be the key to understanding our society, history, economy, politics and climate in the future. The Platform is planned to function under the International Council of Archives, at least in the first phase of its existence.

New policy tools

Thirdly, PERSIST started working on new policy tools that will enable UNESCO Member States to motivate, and learn from each other. As a first step a ‘Digital Preservation Starters Guide’ will be developed to raise awareness about the risk of digital amnesia and how to prevent it. A more advanced tool will also be created for Member States wishing to improve their digital preservation policy. This tool, a ‘Model National Digital Preservation Strategy’, will inspire both policy makers and memory institutions who have to develop such policies and strategies.

Report of the PERSIST Steering Committee Meeting at Abu Dhabi.

This article is based on a blog written by Stein van Oosteren.

Digital information is difficult to preserve over longer periods of time. Carriers like hard disks have a short life span, and even if one manages to keep the bits and bytes, the risk that current hard- and software is unable to process the old data is very real. Archives, museums and libraries are acutely aware of these problems, yet they cannot find solutions on their own. The UNESCO PERSIST Project stimulates the debate between these institutions, government and the ICT-industry in order to promote digital sustainability. In its first phase PERSIST was coordinated by the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO.

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