Digital Preservation Policy

The University of Washington Libraries Digital Preservation Policy outlines the plan to support sustainable preservation of and access to the digital scholarly record of the University for the foreseeable future.

UW Libraries Cabinet approved 3/16/2017


The University of Washington Libraries Digital Preservation Policy outlines the plan to support sustainable preservation of and access to the digital scholarly record of the University for the foreseeable future. The policy will be subject to change as new capabilities, standards, best practices and technologies evolve, and as such will be regularly reviewed, revised, and updated as needed.

Digital preservation is the series of managed activities necessary to extend the usable life of computer files and to protect them from media failure, physical loss, and obsolescence. Digital preservation can be divided into two categories of activity: those that simply maintain the authentic original bitstream, and further activities (like normalization, migration, and emulation) that provide access while maintaining the essential functionality of the original digital object. Both categories will be applied to digital materials preserved by the University of Washington Libraries.


The University of Washington Libraries’ mandate for the preservation of digital materials is predicated on our explicit institutional missions at both the Libraries and the University level:

UW Board of Regents Governance Regent Policy No. 5: “The primary mission of the University of Washington is the preservation, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge.”

UW Libraries Delivering Success, Strategic Plan 2014-2017, Collections and Access: “[The Libraries] act as stewards of the scholarly record by developing and preserving our local collection, and provide access to the hidden treasures within it to the University, the region, and the world.”

UW Libraries Delivering Success, Strategic Plan 2014-2017, Research and Scholarship: “[The Libraries] advance research, scholarship and clinical care through the creation, dissemination, transformation, preservation, and exchange of new and existing knowledge in partnership with scholars and researchers.”


The primary purpose of the University of Washington Libraries’ preservation program is to ensure long term access to the variety of information resources selected for the Libraries’ collection. The core aim of digital preservation is to maintain that access to digital materials across time, platforms, and technology. Digital preservation at the UW Libraries relies on the following principles as the basis for all decision-making.

Standards-Based: Comply with the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model standard and conform to certification requirements for ISO Standard 16363 for Trusted Digital Repositories.

High Quality Metadata: Capture and maintain high quality and useful descriptive, administrative, technical, and preservation metadata for all preserved digital content.

Technically Robust: Commit to an interoperable, reliable, and scalable digital archive focusing on open source technologies. We maintain hardware, software, and storage media containing digital content in keeping with prevailing best practices, including adherence to environmental standards, quality control specifications, and security requirements. We have adequate, secure, and geographically diverse backup and disaster recovery safeguards, as well as diversity in storage media and management methods.

Authentic: Maintain local procedures to meet archival requirements pertaining to provenance, chain of custody, authenticity, and integrity of content.

Community-Minded and Collaborative: Adhere to prevailing community standards for preserving access to digital content of long-term value and contribute back to that community when possible. Participate in consortial and collaborative digital preservation solutions when they are a good use of Libraries resources.

Legally compliant: Comply with intellectual property, regulatory, copyright, privacy, and ownership rights for preservation of and access to all digital content.

Up-to-Date: Document and regularly update policies, procedures, and practices in a transparent and consistent fashion. We commit to on-going training and education, and share that knowledge with the Libraries and the campus community.

Sustainable: Adopt a sustainability plan that ensures the cost-effective, transparent, and auditable management of the digital corpus over time.


Content Sources

UW Libraries selects, creates, and collects different types of digital resources, according to existing collection policies. Digital resources collected by the Library fall into these general categories:

  • Licensed resources
  • UW scholarly content
  • Electronic Theses and Dissertations and accompanying materials
  • Archival material
  • UW Libraries-owned, managed or produced digital resources

Content Types

Each of the above content sources may present content of varying types, each which require different preservation strategies. The UW Libraries List of Preferred File Formats gives an overview of many of the content types the Libraries encounters, as well as recommendations for format types that are most suited for long-term preservation. The Libraries will likely acquire materials in additional formats in the future, and preservation strategies will be developed to accommodate new formats as needed.

Preservation Strategies

Regardless of format, preservation actions are generally prioritized on the three categories of use, risk, and value. The specific preservation actions used for UW Libraries’ digital resources will also depend largely on the source and type of content, as well as existing technology and expertise. These decisions will also reflect the priorities of associated applicable collection development policies.

The ability to preserve digital materials will be necessarily scaled to the level of committed institutional support. The scope of preservation actions beyond maintaining persistent access to an authentic bitstream will be considered with an aim towards careful, pragmatic evaluation of current demand and future utility, considering the constellation of preservation actions available at the time, including but not limited to normalization, software migration, and emulation.

No preservation steps will be taken for materials created for short-term use, such as materials scanned for e-reserve and document delivery. While the Digital Preservation repositories are not generally access points (with some exceptions), all materials opted for preservation should be cataloged and intended to be available for use.

Digital assets are subject to periodic reappraisal and may be considered for deaccession. Any deaccessioning in the preservation repository will be guided by the disposition of access copies, and will be carried out in a transparent and well-documented fashion, taking care to avoid any procedures that contradict the Libraries’ reputation for responsible stewardship.


In designing and implementing a digital preservation program, our main challenges are that of sustainability and scalability. Preservation is an ongoing process that requires the dedication of time, expertise, and financial resources over many years. Digital materials are particularly susceptible to the risks of media failure, physical loss, and obsolescence.  The longer preservation is neglected, the more costly and difficult interventions become, with less successful outcomes. Currently, the Libraries are rarely able to provide more than bit-level preservation for any content type or source, while growth in both size and complexity of the corpus of materials in need of preservation is inevitable. Bit-level preservation makes no provision to ensure files are usable when their format is no longer current. As growth occurs, additional resources will be required to fully support long term access to files in obsolete formats.

Roles and Responsibilities

Preservation of any format requires a community of collaborative partners in order to be successful, and is an ongoing cycle of actions and decisions, not a single event. Libraries, archives, and their staff are traditionally responsible for preserving and providing access to the scholarly record, and this does not change as formats become more predominantly digital. In order to achieve success, responsibility for the preservation of digital materials requires the participation of preservation librarians, subject librarians, curators, archivists, Libraries staff, repository librarians, digitization project managers, Libraries IT,  Libraries administration and University administration.