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Canadian Association of Research Libraries

CARL Report on Digital Preservation Capacity in Canadian Institutions

December 9, 2019

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) last month released the Final Report of the Survey on Digital Preservation Capacity and Needs at Canadian Memory Institutions, 2017-18.

The purpose of the survey was to provide an updated and comprehensive picture of digital preservation activities in Canada and to identify existing gaps and outstanding needs at Canadian institutions. Phase 1 of the study targeted CARL members in October-December 2017 (with an update period in December 2018-January 2019) and Phase 2 targeted a broader sample of Canadian memory institutions (in August-September 2018).

Final Report of the Survey on Digital Preservation Capacity and Needs at Canadian Memory Institutions, 2017-18

Executive Summary

Digital preservation presents one of the greatest challenges for memory and cultural institutions in the modern age. New resources and specialized knowledge must match the complex organizational, policy and technical components that can assist in the persistence of digital content into the future. How can we ensure that the digital content of value to Canadians is available in perpetuity? What are the gaps that need to be addressed, and how can Canadian institutions be supported to build capacity in this area? In 2017 and 2018, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) surveyed libraries, museums, galleries and archives to determine the current state of digital preservation in Canada and to better understand the issues and needs stemming from this work.

This report presents a summary of the results of the CARL Digital Preservation Working Group (DPWG) survey on digital preservation capacity and needs at Canadian memory institutions. The purpose of the survey was to provide an updated and comprehensive picture of digital preservation activities in Canada and to identify existing gaps and outstanding needs at Canadian institutions. Phase 1 of the survey targeted the 29 CARL members in October-December 2017 (with an update period in December 2018-January 2019) and Phase 2 targeted other Canadian memory institutions in August-September 2018. A total of 52 complete responses were received consisting of 27 research libraries and government-based CARL members, 7 academic libraries (not CARL members); 13 government-based archives, libraries, and museums at the municipal, provincial and national levels; and 5 community-based or non-profit archives, libraries and museums. Of the government-based respondents, Library and Archives Canada responded as a member of CARL in Phase 1, and 5 provincial and territorial archives responded in Phase 2.

All respondent organizations are undertaking digitization activities, and 94% are collecting born-digital materials. The main sources of born-digital materials are records and publications from the respondent organizations themselves and personal records from private donors, followed by content produced by faculty members and researchers. 3 organizations are not collecting born-digital materials due to a lack of capacity to preserve them.

Organizational commitment to digital preservation is in development among respondents. 38% of organizations have language that expresses a commitment to digital preservation published in a strategic plan, mandate or mission statement. Another 40% have language waiting approval, in draft, or planned. 81% of organizations have an individual or group responsible for coordinating digital preservation activities across the organization and 44% have a committee or working group related to digital preservation work. Engagement with external organizations, projects and initiatives related to digital preservation is high, with 75% of respondents indicating participation in these groups.

The availability of formalized digital preservation policies and procedures is low among respondents, but progress is being made in this area as many organizations begin to scope and draft them. Only 17% of respondent organizations have an approved digital preservation policy or set of policies, though an additional 19% have policies under review or in draft. In contrast, more organizations are working to document preservation procedures, strategies and plans. 23% have documented procedures, and another 48% have procedures in draft or development. 67% have digital preservation strategies or plans in place. 58% of organizations also indicated they have adopted specific digital preservation-related standards, best practices or guidelines.

The use of tools for digital preservation tasks among respondents is low. 29% of respondent organizations are using digital forensics tools to safely capture data from storage media, and 48% are using at least one tool for preservation processing. However, many of these uses of tools are still in a testing period: less than half of the respondents using tools for processing are using any one tool in production.

Most respondents endeavour to give access to digital materials. 85% of respondent organizations use a variety of web-based platforms for access, and others use shared folders or computers on-site.

The transition to preservation-friendly storage among respondent organizations has been slow. While 94% of organizations rely on local network storage as one storage option, 81% also have digital assets stored on CDs/DVDs, hard and flash drives or legacy media (such as floppy disks), and 38% selected all three options. 50% of respondent organizations make use of cloud storage services. 50% use tape and 35% make use of replicated storage networks like LOCKSS. Respondents are storing a median of 20TB of digital content.

There are low staffing levels devoted to digital preservation at many organizations. Looking at total Full Time Equivalent (FTE) values across respondent organizations, positions with responsibilities for digital preservation represent less than 1% of total organizational FTEs. 62% of respondents have less than the equivalent of one full-time individual working on digital preservation across all staff listed with responsibilities in this area. Responsibilities are often spread across several positions, with 48% of all roles listed by respondents having between 0 and 20% of a person’s time given to digital preservation. Expectations for expanding staffing are mixed: 48% said they intended to increase staffing through new hires or reassignment.

Digital preservation programs are largely funded through general operational budgets, but 42% of respondent organizations also rely on short-term funding sources such as grants or awards to accomplish this work. 75% of respondents did not know what percentage of their organization’s budget is dedicated to digital preservation. Outside of reliance on IT departments, few organizations rely on additional resources from elsewhere within their organization or externally.

Based on a scoring method used across quantitative responses in the survey, the following picture emerges overall. A small cohort of 13% of respondent organizations are just starting out in developing digital preservation capacity. A large middle group of 79% of respondent organizations have programs that are in development. Another small cohort of 8% of respondents showed strong capacity overall as their programs are based on more mature policy platforms, a stronger organizational commitment and improved funding devoted towards digital preservation.

In conclusion, Canada’s cultural, research and educational content is an invaluable resource for our country and it is critical that we collectively ensure that this content is available to Canadians now and in the future. The results of the survey show that there are still many challenges for Canada’s memory institutions related to digital preservation. In particular, memory organizations, many of which have mission or vision statements related to preservation and long-term access, have not yet prioritized digital preservation within their operations and do not direct significant resources towards these activities. The survey shows that many memory institutions, both large and small and across different sectors, are struggling with similar challenges related to digital preservation, and collective action in Canada could be helpful in addressing some of the issues. Training and skills development covering a range of aspects related to digital preservation (e.g. policy, organization, and technology) that are accessible to all the memory institutions in Canada would be beneficial. Additionally, organizational models will need to change to reflect new priorities related to digital preservation. Developing best practice and modern organizational models in the digital age that more appropriately reflect digital preservation needs can provide the impetus for institutions to begin the restructuring process that is required.

(Via Canadian Association of Research Libraries)

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