Digital Preservation Seeds

by Barbara Sierman

Is it useful to know who is using which preservation system?

My organization is, as are many others,  looking for a replacement of the current digital preservation system. So I’m curious what is on the market and what other national libraries are using. Websites of commercial vendors like Preservica, Ex Libris and Libnova offer sometimes information about their customers. The websites of the library organizations themselves inform us about their infrastructure. Last year a group of Portugese researchers (Rosa, Carlos André (2018): OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE FOR DIGITAL PRESERVATION REPOSITORIES: A SURVEY) investigated the currently available open source software for digital preservation repositories.  Some of these open source communities have a list of implementations. Combined with suppliers websites we could have a nice overview of what is available and who has implemented which preservation system. Create a list on google docs, use Gephi to make a graph and you have a nice overview. I started with this exercise but was a bit reluctant to continue.

Firstly,  I thought, there is a risk with such a list: terrorists and hackers might plan to use this information to destroy important cultural heritage resources so perhaps it is best not to centralize this information (likewise: nobody should mention anymore the place of their preservation copies in public, like we did in the past when we were proud of what we had achieved).

But, secondly, even if we had information about who is using which system, we still have an incomplete picture because we do not know whether we share the same concepts, despite our shared OAIS language. I realized this when I saw a Dutch survey report.

The Digital Heritage Network in the Netherland started a survey (sorry folks, only in Dutch) to get an overview of the digital preservation systems in use in the Netherlands. Not only out of curiosity, but also to investigate the need for developing generic services and to promote more collaboration between organizations. The researchers Joost van der Nat and Marcel Ras plan to create a map of digital preservation services in the Netherlands and this survey will give the first ingredients. 50 organizations were selected for this survey, 44 of them responded. 27 of them said to have a digital preservation solution in place , although the impression is that not every respondent meant the same with having a “digital archive” so it is more safe to say that 50% has a digital preservation solution (this was based on the answers they gave on other questions). A third of these 27 organizations did the development of the digital archive themselves (9), but amongst the respondents were early adopters that started years ago when there was hardly any system on the market. The other respondents implemented Preservica (2) and Archivematica (1) or a solution created by a 3rd party provider like Data Matters (1) or Picturae (3). In the Category “others”, systems that were mentioned were Islandora, arQive, DSpace, De Ree and Adlib Filemaker (which are not all long term preservation systems in the OAIS sense). A new iteration of this survey will show a different overview, as there are for example more implementations of Preservica and Archivematica in the Netherlands.

Most of the respondents were familiair with the OAIS functional entities. 10 Organisations had all 6 entities implemented (Preservation Planning is absent in most organizations), but 6 respondents out of 27 did not know which functionalities of OAIS were present in their system, although they said to have a preservation system implemented! And despite the explanation given in the survey.

And here I realized that although people were familiar with OAIS concepts, the answers in the survey showed that they did not have the same definition of a digital archive. Although every question was accompanied by an explanation of the survey creators, respondents still gave answers that were for me beside the point.  And that it might not help me either to have an overview of who is using what digital preservation system. It is the way it is implemented and the organization around the digital archive, that matters. But these things cannot be shared in lists.

So perhaps the old fashioned way of picking up the phone and meeting people is still the best way to get your knowledge. However… for that you need a “phonebook” to know who to contact. So a list might be handy after all.


  1. Tibaut Houzanme July 1, 2018

    Dear Barbara,
    The right Digital Preservation system question is a consulting question, and one that should look at the organization’s environment and objectives first.
    The methodology for selecting an integrated records and preservation system has been recently published in Bantin’s “Building Trustworthy Digital Repositories” ( based on a case study. Not a publicity stunt, because I lead the writing of this chapter with my former manager out of the same frustration most of us have, faced with the question.

    Early on, I noticed that other organizations’ choices matter, but may lead to bias and many institutions are (and continue to be) making the same mistake, assuming the first was wrong about their choice and does not want to admit it, for job preservation purposes. I was appalled by how effective some vendors marketing are, and how they sweet-mouth their solution and appeal to Archivist ego and get institutions to contract. Implementation is a nightmare that can be corrected with lots of additional financial investment.
    In short, preservation requirements, IT environment requirements, administration needs, internal use and user access requirements as well as sustainability factors are among the few to consider. Reach out if you want to know more :
    Kind regards.

    • B Sierman October 22, 2018 — Post Author

      Thanks for your feedback and I’m very interested in your book!

  2. Marcel Ras June 20, 2018

    The first and far most important requirement for picking up the phone or meet people is to know who to call or meet. And is exactly what the “map of operational digital archives in The Netherlands” intends to do. To create an overview of facilities for digital preservation in the country. Off course, this is only a first step.

    The survey was directed to only 50 Heritage institutes, which were selected for the survey. A first step as the survey was not meant to give an in-depth overview of all the aspects of the operation digital preservation systems in place. With the survey, resulting in a first version of a digital archives map of The Netherlands, we intended to further our goal towards more collaboration between institutes. More surveys will follow; more institutes will be approached and our goal is to eventually have an inventory of available services for digital preservation in the Netherlands.

    Collaboration could follow the lines of the in 2016 developed model for a distributed network for preservation facilities ( This theoretic model provides the elements of a preservation environment for institutes. The Digital Preservation Award winning model should become practice. In order to connect supply and demand, an overview of facilities to be used is very helpful.

    A second goal of the survey was to find out what type of collaboration institutes are looking for, what are the topics institutes want and need to collaborate on. In the survey questions are included to get more insight in this. Based on the answers all participants gave, the Digital Heritage Network will be able to give more focus to its working program. And it may not be a surprise that topics as best-practices, preservation policies, training and file-format assessments are the most popular for mutual cooperation. There is a great demand for information and examples and a desire to work together on a national scale.

    This survey and the resulting map do not provide answers to all questions, but it is a beginning, a “phone-book”. Picking up the phone and meeting colleagues is still the best way to get your answers, and that will always be the best way. The Digital Heritage Network facilitates this by providing an overview and stimulating contacts between institutes and colleagues.

    As for the map itself, with the results of the first survey we were able to draw a first version. Filling in the details of the map is like discovering the world and creating better maps. So we started with the edges of the continents and will continue with filling the gaps by moving inland.

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