UKOLNPreservation of Digital Cultural Materials

Position Statement

drafted by Tony Gill, Research Libraries Group

We, the undersigned, believe that

Society has a vital interest in preserving materials that document issues, ideas, discourse and events. But our ability and commitment as a society to preserve our cultural memory are far from secure. Custodians of the cultural record, such as museums, libraries and archives, have always had to manage the inherent conflict between allowing people to use materials from their collections, and preserving those materials for future use.

Digital technology has numerous advantages as a means of recording and providing access to our cultural memory, and if both original materials and digital surrogates are correctly preserved, may help relieve the traditional conflict between preservation and access. However, digital technology also poses new threats and problems: Reading and understanding information in digital form requires equipment and software that quickly becomes obsolete. Rapid changes in the means of recording information, in the formats for storage, and in the technologies for use threaten to render the life of information in the digital age as "nasty, brutish and short."

Today, digital information is penetrating and transforming nearly every aspect of our culture. If we are to effectively preserve the portion of this rapidly expanding corpus of digital information that represents our cultural record for future generations, we need to commit ourselves technically, legally, economically and organizationally to the full dimensions of the task. We must also be aware that it is not enough simply to preserve digital "bits" without context; both content and context are necessary to understanding the cultural record. The failure to develop trusted means and methods of digital preservation will result in a stiff, long-term cultural penalty for future generations.

The statement above is paraphrased with permission from "Preserving Digital Information, Report of the Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information", Commission on Preservation and Access and The Research Libraries Group, Inc. 1996.


Canadian Heritage (Canada)
Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN, Canada)
Coalition for Networked Information (CNI, USA)
Consortium for the Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI, Canada)
Cultural Heritage Unit, European Commission (CEE)
Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS, UK)
European Museums Information Institute (EMII, UK)
Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS, USA)
Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC, UK)
National Archives of Canada (Canada)
National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH, USA)
National Library of Australia (Australia)
National Library of Canada (Canada)
National Library of New Zealand (New Zealand)
New Opportunities Fund (NOF, UK)
New Zealand Digital Library Project (New Zealand)
Online Computer Library Center (OCLC, USA)
Research Libraries Group (RLG, USA)
Resource (UK)