Home >> Policy >> Digital Preservation >> Digital Preservation Policy

1. Purpose

In this policy, Northern Illinois University Libraries (the Library) commits itself to the long-term preservation of and access to varied and unique digital assets, including stewardship of the University's digital record.

Digital preservation has been defined by the American Library Association (ALA) as "policies, strategies, and actions to ensure access to reformatted and born digital content regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change."1 This implies more than simply making an object available in a digital format and differs from analog preservation in several key ways. Analog materials like books can survive for many years in a temperature-controlled environment without intervention, while digital materials that are left alone for relatively short periods of time are subject to degradation and obsolescence of storage media, formats, and compatible hardware. This situation requires active management and ongoing planning to ensure long-term preservation and access to an institution's digital assets.

The Library’s digital preservation program contributes to the University’s mission to be a leading student-centered, research-focused public university in the Midwest by ensuring long-term access to the institution's digital assets. The Library requires a formal digital preservation policy to carry out its mission to "partner with our users in the research, discovery, and creation of knowledge" by ensuring the integrity of the research and knowledge created for years to come.

2. Objectives

This policy endeavors to ensure that the intellectual and cultural heritage important to Northern Illinois University be preserved and remains accessible for future use. The objectives of the policy are to:

  • Explain the scope of digital preservation, including the sources and types of materials that will be preserved, and why the policy is necessary;
  • Enumerate the challenges inherent in implementing a digital preservation program;
  • Establish a formal commitment on behalf of NIU Libraries that will proactively protect the Library's digital investments;
  • Demonstrate organizational commitment and identify ongoing, sustainable funding strategies;
  • Outline the principles on which digital preservation actions will be based;
  • Identify the stakeholders responsible for discrete components of digital preservation strategies and work;
  • Explore efficiencies through integration, automation, and collaboration where possible;
  • Define a regular schedule for policy review and describe implementation activities; and
  • Define terms, identify standards, and enumerate resources that will inform digital preservation activities.

3. Mandate

The preservation of the University's digital assets arises from a twofold mandate:

  • scholarly commitment; and
  • institutional responsibility

Scholarly commitment:

As an institution of higher education, Northern Illinois University strives to promote excellence and engagement in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, creativity and artistry, and outreach and service. In addition, NIU follows an Open Access Policy that requires faculty members to deposit copies of their published research in the Huskie Commons institutional repository. As more resources and services associated with these functions become digital, the Library's responsibilities must expand to include the identification, stewardship, and preservation of designated digital content campus-wide.

Institutional responsibility:

The Library's commitment to digital preservation is explicitly stated in the initiatives outlined in the current strategic plan, which calls for the Library to collect, preserve, and provide access to the University's digital and intellectual assets (e.g. theses, dissertations, pre and post prints, and data sets), and ensure long-term access to unique collections.

The University Archives also serves as the repository for all official records of the University that have permanent historical or administrative value, including those in electronic format.

Further, NIU has mandated responsibilities to preserve and maintain access to certain digital objects. Some legal obligations derived from State laws require the Library to maintain files in an archival fashion, including the Illinois State Records Act and the OpenAccess to Research Articles Act. The University Archives and Rare Books and Special Collections must also adhere to the State Records Act and Deed of Gift agreements.

4. Scope

This policy only addresses the preservation of digital collections and resources for which the Library is the primary custodian. However, the Library has a responsibility to inform, consult, and (as appropriate) coordinate with other units of NIU to ensure adequate ongoing access to NIU created administrative, scholarly, and other digital resources. Furthermore, NIU must work through consortia, licensing agreements, etc. to assure that the NIU community has adequate ongoing access to currently available licensed digital resources. The Library, however, cannot guarantee preservation of materials that we do not directly own and manage.

5. Challenges

The Library recognizes that there are several challenges to implementing an effective digital preservation policy, such as:

  • Change: Technology changes frequently, and with it, formats and dissemination mechanisms. As the Library's digital collection diversifies over time, staff will be required to monitor the changing needs of materials, and update policies and procedures based on these needs.
  • Rapid growth: The University's official record is increasingly available only in digital format. The Library's digitized collection grows each year. Stewarding these materials requires a concerted investment in technological equipment, resources, and staff that must scale with increasing demands and obligations.
  • Sustainability: A sustainable digital preservation model responds to change with appropriate new technology and increases in staffing. Cost modeling numbers are difficult to come by in the field, but noteworthy advancements are being made. Library staff will monitor the output of the 4C Project for possible sustainability models and other advice in this area. The Library requires sufficient funding for operations and major improvements to manage its digital collections and to sustain funding for ongoing digital preservation efforts. A digital preservation policy requires adequate resources. The Library must refrain from promising more than it can deliver.
  • Selection: Realistically, the Library cannot preserve everything. It is vital that sensible selection processes and criteria be developed.
  • Management: Additional thought must be given to the coordination and oversight of digital collections that are to be preserved. To balance the sometimes competing goals of access and preservation, the Library will focus on the role preservation plays in access.
  • Partnerships: The Library is committed to working with content providers including creators, donors, and others to preserve their content.
  • Communication: To implement a digital preservation policy, the Library must commit to transparent, honest, and frequent communication among all relevant parties. This commitment implies that regular reports should be supplied to the Preservation Committee from content managers and IT on processes and difficulties.
  • Expertise: The Library must commit to hiring or developing staff with the requisite expertise to operate a robust digital preservation program. Additionally, the library must be committed to continually update staff skill as technologies change.
  • Rights: The changing landscape surrounding intellectual property rights impact the ability to provide access to digital materials and can impact digital preservation efforts. In addition, the Library must function as steward for materials that are in-copyright and have access restrictions.

6. Principles

Like other library resources, criteria for selection and preservation will be consistent. Materials selected for digital stewardship and preservation carry with them the library's commitment to maintain the materials for as long as needed or desired.

The Library will strive to:

  • Comply with the OAIS reference model, and other digital preservation standards and practices;
  • Develop a scalable and realistic digital preservation infrastructure;
  • Manage hardware, software, and storage media components in accordance with industry standards and security requirements;
  • Ensure interoperability and long-term sustainability by using open source formats and software whenever feasible;
  • Ensure the integrity of data by guaranteeing that it is the same as it was when it was originally recorded;
  • Create and maintain adequate metadata (e.g. administrative, descriptive, preservation, provenance, rights, and technical) necessary for the ongoing use of the digital assets;
  • And comply with copyright, intellectual property rights, and/or other legal rights related to copying, storage, modification, and use of digital resources.

7. Categories of Commitment

A documented below, the Library's levels of commitment recognizes that developing solutions for born digital materials informs solutions for the other categories. The commitment statement does not imply that these assets are inherently more valuable or important than other categories and/or our traditional analog materials.

Born-digital materials: Special effort must be made to ensure that selected materials be preserved in perpetuity.

Digitized materials (no analog available): All reasonable steps must be taken to preserve materials without a print analog when re-digitization is not possible or if re-digitization would pose further harm to the physical item.

Digitized materials (analog materials available): Reasonable measures must be taken to extend the life of digital objects with a readily available print analog. The cost of re-digitizing will need to be weighed against the cost of preserving the existing digital object.

Licensed digital resources: The Library is committed to working within our consortia, licensing agreements, etc. to assure ongoing access to and long-term preservation for licensed resources (ebooks, subscription databases, etc.). Whenever possible, we advocate for services that have preservation infrastructure (e.g. Portico) and/or articulated exit strategies for licensed materials in the event of the cessation of the consortia or licensing agreement(s).

Other materials: Materials for short term use, such as those scanned for interlibrary borrowing requests, or for other content deemed unessential, will not be preserved.

8. Content Types

The content sources cited above may present content in various types:

  • Textual materials (articles, records: PDF, DOCX, ASCII, HTML, XML)
  • Images (scanned books or photographs, digital photos, digital art: TIFF, JPEG, JPEG2000)
  • Audio/video materials (videos produced on campus, oral histories: MPEG, AVI, MOV, WAV)
  • Numerical data/datasets (research data: XML, XLS, CSV, database formats)

Each requires a different preservation strategy. It is likely that the Library will acquire materials in additional formats that will require other preservation strategies.

9. Roles and Responsibilities

While the Library has primary responsibility for digital preservation at NIU, it is a shared responsibility. Designated University officials, content creators, and disseminators must act to fulfill this policy. In this section we outline the roles and responsibilities of concerned parties as they exist presently. These roles and responsibilities may change.

Producers: These include faculty, students, staff, alumni, collectors, creators of content, publishers, and others. Producers will be responsible for complying with established deposit requirements and working with the management of the digital archive to ensure successful transfer.

Management: Management in this context refers to library personnel who set and implement digital preservation policy. These may include the Preservation Committee, the University Archivist, the Digital Projects Content Advisory Group, and others.

Administrators: Administrators are defined as those who carry out day-to-day operations necessary to preserve digital content. These stewards include library personnel associated with the Digital Projects Content Advisory Group, the University Archives, Metadata Services, and Library Systems. Stewardship extends to regular reporting of maintenance activities and extraordinary events that affect digital materials.

Consumers: Users of content either identified for digital preservation and/or presently stored in the digital archive. These consumers, who may include faculty, students, alumni, researchers, staff, and the general public, will be responsible for honoring applicable copyright restrictions and licensing agreements.

Third party: This category includes any additional stakeholder who will be a provider of value-added services, for example, aggregators.

Institutional collaborators: These collaborators may include corporate partners, non-profit organizations, academic researchers, cultural heritage organizations, government agencies at all levels, and all other relevant partners.

10. Levels of Preservation

The Library recognizes that the development of a mature digital preservation program is an aspirational endeavor. As such, we will consult the National Digital Stewardship Alliance's "Levels of Preservation" model to assess our progress over time. (See Appendix 4.)

11. Stakeholders

Stakeholders in digital preservation include Library staff, Library patrons, faculty and University staff who create digital content housed by the Library.

Administration: Commits to supporting an environment in which digital preservation is regarded as a critically necessary endeavor. This support includes providing adequate managerial and financial commitment to develop a digital preservation program. Resource allocation in support of digital preservation is crucial to the future of valuable digital materials created, owned, or managed by the NIU Libraries. 

Digital Collections Advisory Group: Guides the acquisition, processing, management, storage, access, and long-term care of the library’s unique digital assets through the entire digital curation lifecycle. This is accomplished through advocacy, planning, and other relevant methods.  

Digital Collections & Scholarship: Manages the creation of digital content within the Library (e.g. scanning), ensuring that industry standards and best practices are followed.

Preservation Committee: Writes the digital preservation policy, develops implementation plans, and reviews them annually. 

Rare Books & Special Collections: Manages the acquisition, processing of, and access to born-digital materials relevant to RBSC collections, as well as those created from digitization of analog materials, as part of the Digital Collections Advisory Group. 

Regional History Center & University Archives: Manages the acquisition, processing of, and access to born-digital materials relevant to RHC/UA collections, as well as those created from digitization of analog materials, as part of the Digital Collections Advisory Group. The Regional History Center acquires, preserves, and makes available to the public the most significant historical records for the eighteen northernmost counties of Illinois. The University Archives serve as the repository for all official records of Northern Illinois University that have historical and administrative value. 

Southeast Asia Collection: Manages the acquisition, processing of, and access to born-digital materials relevant to SEA collections, as well as those created from digitization of analog materials, as part of the Digital Collections Advisory Group. Southeast Asia digital content includes materials held by NIU and contributed materials from partner institutions. 

Technology Services: Facilitates access to the offsite host through the Department of Information Technology. Ensures that backups of the digital collections repository server and institutional repository server are performed. 

Technical Services: Responsible for ingestion and maintenance of digital objects in the digital collections repository and the Huskie Commons institutional repository. Manages the creation of all metadata to ensure compliance with industry standards, best practices, and local policies. Responsible for implementing digital preservation plans, including the deposit of digital assets into long-term storage.

12. Access and Use Criteria

The Library acquires, manages, and preserves digital resources so that they remain accessible to its constituents over the long term. Certain limitations may be placed on access due to legal obligations, donor agreements, and other reasons, but, in so far as possible, the Library endeavors to make its digital resources openly available to all users.

13. Review Cycle

This policy will be reviewed annually to assure timely revisions as technology progresses and preservation strategies and experience mature.

Appendix 2: Glossary

Term Definition
4C Project The four C's stand for the Collaboration to Clarify Costs of Curation. The program is designed to allow institutions "to invest more effectively in digital curation and preservation." They argue that "Research in digital preservation and curation has tended to emphasize the cost and complexity of the task in hand. 4C reminds us that the point of this investment is to realise a benefit, so our research must encompass related concepts such as ‘risk’, ‘value’, ‘quality’ and ‘sustainability’." (See website: http://4cproject.eu/)
Born-digital Materials Materials produced in digital form, rather than having been converted from print or analog equivalents.
Checksum An algorithmically-computed numeric value for a file or a set of files used to validate the state and content of the file for the purpose of detecting accidental errors that may have been introduced during its transmission or storage. The integrity of the data can be checked at any later time by recomputing the checksum and comparing it with the stored one. If the checksums match, the data was almost certainly not altered. See also “Fixity Check.”
Data Sets Data sets are collections of data, most commonly corresponding to the contents of a single database table, or a single statistical data matrix, where every column of the table represents a particular variable, and each row corresponds to a given member of the data set in question.
Digital Preservation The series of managed activities, policies, strategies and actions to ensure the accurate rendering of digital content for as long as necessary, regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change.
Digitized Materials Digital materials converted from print or analog equivalents.
File Format Packages of information that can be stored as data files consisting of a fixed byte-serialized encoding of a specified information model, and/or a fixed encoding of that encoding in a tangible form on a physical storage structure.
Fixity Check A mechanism to verify that a digital object has not been altered in an undocumented manner. Checksums, message digests and digital signatures are examples of tools to run fixity checks. Fixity information, the information created by these fixity checks, provides evidence for the integrity and authenticity of the digital objects and are essential to enabling trust. See also “Checksum”
OAIS Reference Model The Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model is a conceptual framework for an archival system dedicated to preserving and maintaining access to digital information over the long term. See http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=57284