National Libraries and the Levels of Digital Preservation

This post is a follow up to the summary post about the survey the NDSA Levels Steering committee released this spring, with the hope of being able to better understand the different scenarios under which institutions deploy the NDSA Levels. 

While the response rate was very modest, with only twelve individuals/institutions filling out the survey by the deadline date. We noted that among those twelve were three national libraries. Overall, the three national libraries have in common an organizational/conceptual disposition toward the levels. In one case, the NDSA Levels are used as a “planning tool” to aid with development of digital preservation policies. In another, levels serve as a “maturity modeling tool” to help articulate functional preparedness for digital preservation tasks. And in another, the Levels serve as a “conceptual framework” that undergirds a three-year Digital Preservation Strategic Plan. 

As a very small sample of non-representational institutions, it might seem like a stretch to zero in on how national libraries are using the Levels. But consider – national libraries are often the ones setting policy for everyone else. And so their common use of a particular rubric is helpful to note, alongside their uses of other tools to fill in some of the gaps they consider not covered by the NDSA Levels. Because that’s not all they’re using! Other tools mentioned included TRAC, OAIS, and PREMIS, as well as the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Rapid Assessment Model (DPC RAM) to track progress and for continuous improvement. 

Environmental impact also emerges as a key area for more attention. Two of the three national libraries take environmental impact into account when considering their digital preservation activities. But the NDSA Levels don’t provide adequate guidance in this area, according to comments. In two cases, environmental impact is only considered when looking at bitstream preservation, and the process of evaluating environmental impact is still in its early stages. Given our growing awareness of the impact of multiple copies and other high-bandwidth activities on carbon output, and the increasingly immediate need for institutions to grapple with both preservation and impact, perhaps this is an area for reassessment at a high level, with additional input from policy-setting institutions like national libraries. 

We plan to continue checking out the results of our survey and share any compelling findings. Do you have insights about the NDSA Levels and how you use them? Please reach out to the “Levellers” group! We would love to hear from you.

As a reminder, our next open session is on August 16th at 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM.  The topic will be discussing the idea of environmental sustainability in regards to the Levels of Digital Preservation.  We are keen to hear how the community would like us to engage with this topic and if there is any work required to update the Levels with this in mind.

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