Digital preservation, as with all of our library work, is informed by our mission and values. While our primary responsibility lies with the students, staff, and faculty of New York University now and into the future, the Libraries also welcomes and engages in scholarly, cultural, and artistic interactions with broader communities in our role as stewards of cultural heritage. A shared understanding of the priorities and issues involved in carrying out digital preservation activities and initiatives is key to any digital preservation efforts.
Digital preservation is a challenging activity. As long as there is technology, we will need to perform the act of digital preservation continuously. This work has several obstacles that need to be addressed by practitioners. There are technological barriers to preservation such as the scale of collections, proprietary file formats and software, outdated physical media, and ephemeral Web-based platforms used to store digital materials. There are legal barriers to preservation work that can inhibit the ability to perform the act of digital preservation iteratively and over time. There are also social implications for digital preservation work, ensuring as it does the existence of materials reflecting a broad range of knowledge, scholarship, and cultural heritage. Given this, we focus particularly on materials from intentionally marginalized communities, and center anti-racism, accessibility, gender equity, and mental health and wellness in this work. With these challenges and implications in mind, we recognize that failure is possible; we cannot promise that preservation will be forever. That said, we aim to increase the longevity of materials to the greatest extent possible. We continuously evaluate our institutional approach, whether risk-tolerant or risk-averse, and adjust as necessary given the surrounding circumstances.
We commit to providing the resources—including staff, technology, expertise, time, and budget—to actively and iteratively preserve and maintain digital materials. We recognize that preservation requires constant and intentional work at every stage of the materials’ lifecycle. Within digital preservation, we prioritize the labor and expertise that makes it possible, and direct resources toward materials from intentionally marginalized communities.
We recognize that our responsibility for stewarding digital resources is distributed widely in NYU Libraries and goes far beyond practitioners in traditional technology and preservation departments. This distributed responsibility includes collection development, teaching and learning, technical services, research services, user experience, television and media, scholarly communications, and many other departments and areas of expertise. Just as responsibility for stewarding is widely distributed across our Libraries, it is also widely distributed beyond our Libraries and requires the expertise and collaboration of external partners and the use of external tools.
Not every digital object in our collections needs to be selected for digital preservation. Not every digital object that we deem in need of preservation needs to be preserved by us. Not every digital object we deem in need of preservation will be in our collection. These last two cases lead inevitably to the need for collaboration and interoperability. Beyond NYU Libraries, trusted creators, institutions, and vendors play a role in the stewardship of our digital resources, and we often rely on these collaborative efforts to effectively meet our digital preservation goals.
We are transparent in our commitment to and capacity for preserving digital objects, in our choice of which digital objects we preserve, in how we preserve them, and under what circumstances we allow access to the digital objects themselves. This aim will guide our choice of standards, formats, metadata, and maintenance procedures, all of which are central to successful preservation work.
We promote a culture of openness to build and maintain legal and technological infrastructure that supports and rewards that openness, accessibility, and inclusivity. However, we recognize that it is not always possible or ethical to open materials. We commit to making material available to the widest possible range of users, including those with disabilities, and to adapting the process for making materials open and accessible as the work evolves. We make this commitment while recognizing that not all content may be made accessible.
As part of our mission, we proactively seek to build understanding, literacy, and awareness among ourselves and our community of users about decisions, procedures, and processes regarding digital preservation. Digital preservation is not just making sure the bits we get in are the bits we get out—we strive for our preserved materials to be understandable and directly usable over time. We aim to forefront access, respect, and archival integrity of the digitally preserved materials under our stewardship. We will meet the challenges of digital preservation head-on with the resources we have. To this end, this policy will inform future documentation, procedures, projects, outreach efforts, and overall transparency around digital preservation at NYU Libraries.
Digital Preservation Policy Task Force, 2022