St John Archive

An introduction to digital preservation at the St John Archive

Museum of the Order of St John Sophie Denman (Archivist)

We are in a world of constant digital communication through text messages, e-mails, and social media. Businesses rely on digital too, with all kinds of hardware, software, programmes, and technologies powering companies across the world. By utilising these technological and digital means, companies are creating a vast number of digital records.

The St John Archive’s fastest growing collections are its digital and digitised collections. The digital collections include photographs, films, sound recordings, reports, publications, policies, internal and external communications, and all kinds of business records. These digital records – like their physical predecessors – need to be managed and preserved once they reach the Archive. Preservation of St John’s digital records is therefore an essential task for the Archive as the organisation’s repository of historic, evidential, and legal information.

Digital records, however, bring a multitude of preservation challenges. All digital records require machines to be accessed, viewed, and used, and therefore the information contained within digital records require the use of computers. Software will need upgrading, digital formats may become obsolete over time, and inherently, we need increasing digital tools and skills to be able to navigate through this effectively, and this is where digital preservation comes in.

It is important for archivists who manage digital collections to engage in digital preservation to ensure that information is not lost or corrupted, to preserve unique records, to ensure long-term access, to prevent obsolescence, to assist in maintaining the historical record of the organisation and its culture, and to meet regulatory requirements. Digital preservation is the umbrella term for the proactive processes of maintaining, managing, and storing digital content in such a way to ensure its integrity, authenticity, accessibility, and usability into the future.

Digital preservation processes are essential for ensuring St John’s digital archival assets are protected and accessible. The Archive is in its early days of digital preservation, but I look forward to sharing updates on our digital preservation as we progress.

If you’d like to find out more about digital preservation and World Digital Preservation Day, why not check out the Digital Preservation Coalition’s 2023 World Digital Preservation article here.

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