18th Annual Preservation Conference

Perspectives on Digital Preservation

Kenneth Thibodeau, Director
Electronic Records Archives Program
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

NARA's Vision for the Electronic Records Archives

"The Electronic Records Archives will authentically preserve and provide access to any kind of electronic record, free from dependency on any specific hardware or software, enabling NARA to carry out its mission into the future."

NARA's Electronic Records Challenge

  • Take any type of record

  • Created using any type of application

  • On any computing platform

  • From any entity in the Federal Government, and

  • Provide discovery and delivery to anyone with an interest and legal right of access

  • Now and for the life of the republic

ERA Partnership Organization Logos

2002 Report Cover

Advanced Technologies to Build Knowledge from Data

  • Ultra-large-scale data-mining technologies

  • for rapid mining, filtering, correlating, and assessing of vast quantities of heterogeneous and unstructured data ....

Data storage and management technologies:

  • Tools for collecting, indexing, archiving, and synthesis

  • Protocols for data compatibility, conversion, interoperability, and interpretation in networked environments ….

  • Representation, preservation, and storage of multimedia collections

Purpose of Preservation:

Authentic Preserved Records

What comes out of preservation is identical to what went in, in all essential respects

Equation representing the goal of preservation


  • Is a function of the identification and characterization of the object deemed authentic.

  • E.g., what is an authentic copy of Thomas Jefferson's writing?

Scanned and text examples of Thomas Jefferson's writing

Possibilities for Digital Preservation

Graphical representation of Emulation vs. Migration

Possibilities for Digital Preservation

Technology Objects Illustration
Preserve Preserve

Technology Objects

Characteristics of an Electronic Record

Objectives Matrix (1)

Objectives Matrix (2)

Technology Preservation Methods

  • Perpetuate the problems of current technologies

  • Increasingly complex to support and use

  • Thousands of combinations of hardware, operating systems, application software packages

  • Increasingly difficult to train and assist users

  • Even more complex as the focus shifts from individual systems to networks, distributed applications, and grid computing

  • Becomes very complex for collections of documents accumulated over time

  • Run counter to the major direction of IT

  • Intellectual property rights

Objectives Matrix (3)

Objectives Matrix (4)

Version Migration

Diagram of Version Migration in Word

Objectives Matrix (5)

Migration to Standard Form

Diagram of Migration to Standard Form

Objectives Matrix (6)

Typed Object Model

J. Ockerbloom, U. Pennsylvania

  • All digital data 'things' are objects with

    • Specified attributes
    • Specified methods (operations)
    • Specific semantics
  • A Type is defined by given values or parameters for the attributes, methods, or semantics of a class of objects.
  • Any digital object (byte sequence) has a format; i.e. a specified encoding for an object of that type
  • Byte sequences can be converted from one format to another
  • It is possible to perform conversions that respect type
  • 'Respectful' conversions cannot be distinguished when viewed through an interface for the type.

Rosetta Stone

Arcot Rajasekar, SDSC

Diagram of Rajasekar's 'Rosetta Stone' Method

Objectives Matrix (7)

Object Interchange Format

Diagram of Object Interchange Format

Objectives Matrix (8)

Persistent Archives Method

  • Characterize significant properties of the things that are to be preserved.

  • Express these properties in formal models

  • Encapsulate objects in metadata defined in the models.

  • Use software "mediators" to enable future technologies to interpret the models and metadata

    • to rebuild and repopulate collections
    • to re-present the records
    • support information discovery and delivery.

Knowledge Based Persistent Archives

Diagram of Knowledge Based Persistent Archives method

National Partnership for Advanced National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure electronic_records_archives/

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