The concept of preserving the past has developed over hundreds of years.  The simple act of record keeping was our first attempt to preserve events, discussions or other actions by using record keeping techniques or technologies.  Today these concepts of preservation of information are still being practiced and improved.

In the article Collaboration for Electronic Preservation by Howard Besser (2007) the discussion of historical influences upon digital preservation and collaboration are discussed.  At the end of the 20th century librarians were encouraged to collaborate on preservation projects that involved many institutions through the use of technology (Besser, 2007, p. 217). 

As early as the 1960's collaborative preservation projects started with groups like the Association of Research Libraries and the Library of Congress, which involved creating a national preservation repository (Besser, 2007, p. 217)  This project was never followed through because it was "unworkable," but later the Association of Research Libraries proposed a new goal of national preservation through individual research libraries during the 1970's (Besser, 2007, p. 217).  As a part of collaborative digital preservation the Research Libraries Group was given a grant to begin preservation through microfilming strategies in 1983 (Besser, 2007, p. 217). 

Later, in the 1990's, when digital preservation became a major concern many information organizations came together to create a collaborative digital-preservation effort (Besser, 2007, p. 218).  The collaborative efforts began with the adoption of new standards, like Dublin Core. 

In 1995 the first collaborative digital-preservation effort was conducted by the Museum Education Site Licensing Project, which "aggregated digital content and metadata from six museums and the library of Congress into an identical set that was disseminated via seven different retrieval systems on seven different university campuses" (Besser, 2007, p. 219).  The use of collaborative digital-preservation efforts has provided a new chapter in digital preservation where it is necessary to promote digital preservation on a large scale with the help of many information organizations.

Besser, H (2007) Collaboration for electronic preservation. Library Trends vol. 56 no. 1 pp. 216-229.  Retrieved from Wilsons Web

However, there are problems with old and new preservation strategies and we may be fighting a losing battle…The concept of preservation has a variety of problems, which eventually causes the loss of information or the break-down of the preservation process.

Common Preservation Problems

Before the 19th century many written documents were written on quality paper made from cotton or linen, which allows the document to survive for many years after its creation (Witten, Bainbridge and Nichols, 2009, p. 410).  Later, the compositions of paper changed into a combination of wood pulp and acidic chemicals (Witten, Bainbridge and Nichols, 2009, p. 410).  The acidic chemicals cause the paper to decompose by crumbling into pieces.

The environment, in which materials are stored, also causes preservation issues, like heat, humidity and light.  Today, even with this information, many books are still printed on acidic paper.  Cotton and linen paper are more complicated and expensive processes.  Also processes for deacidification are expensive.

Newer mediums have also met this same demise.  Nitrate film, was used before the 1950’s, also has a rapid decomposing rate, even in controlled environments (Witten, Bainbridge and Nichols, 2009, p. 411).  The suggestion for preservation of these kinds of difficult mediums is to make regular copies of the material to attempt long-life of the materials.

This is also the case with digital preservation.  Long-term preservation of digital materials is also very difficult because of issues, like rapidly changing technologies, preservation techniques and the environment these materials are kept in.  These issues have caused deterioration of digital formats, which has caused the major loss of information over recent years.

Witten, I. H., Bainbridge, D., Nichols, D. M. (20010). How to build a digital library. Burlington, MA : Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. Oxford, UK.

Historical Outline of Digital Preservation
  • The first time the word "digital" was used to describe a computer that operates on data in the form of digits.
  • The creation of the first electronic computers called ENIAC, which filled an entire room, weighed about 30 tons and used two hundred kilowatts of power.
  • US Federal Records Act of 1950 expands the definition of a records to include "machine-readable materials."
  • IBM offers the first commercial scientific computer IBM 701.
  • ENIAC is turned off and IBM introduces RAMAC, which is the first commercial disk drive. 
  • Introduction of DIGITAL's PDP-8, which is the first mass-produced minicomputer.
  • US libraries use MAchine Readable Cataloging (MARC)
  • Dialog offers the first publicly available online research service.
  • QIC Standard becomes the first standard in computer hitory for tape drives.
  • LZW image compression algorithm is developed and is adopted for compression of modern communications and TIFF,GIF,PDF,Zip and Postscript files.
  • Philips and Sony introduce CD-ROM technology.
  • Z39.50 becomes the international standard for computer-to-computer information retrieval.
  • Wide Area Information Server protocol allows collection of indexed data to be retrieved by searches.
  • World Wide Web system is released by CERN.
  • CERN releases the World Wide Web into the public Domain.
  • Library of Congress provides the National Digital Library Program.
  • Dublin Core Metadata is created.
  • Web archiving projects begin: Internet Archive, Pandora Project and Kulturarw Heritage Project.
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act is passed in the US.
  • LOCKSS is created.
  • Electronic Records Archives project begins.
  • CAMILEON project of Michigan University begins to study the use of emulation as a digital preservation strategy.
  • Library of Congress begins MINERVA project that collects and preserves digital primary source materials on the web.
  • Nordic Web Archives provides harvesting and archiving web documents.
  • The Wayback Machine is created for users to search web archives from 1996.
  • The Digital Preservation Coalition is created to address the challenges of preserving digital resources.
  • RLG and OCLC creat PREMIS or the PREservation Metatdata: Implementation Strategies to address aspects of implementing preservation metadata in digital preservation systems.
  • GOOGLE starts work with Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and the University of Michigan to digitize books from their collections.
  • ESPIDA or An Effective Strategic Model for the Preservation and Disposal of Institutional Assests adopts the approach "take digital preservation on to the next phase sustainable instututional implementation."
  • National Digital Newspaper Program begins after gaining $1.9 million is grants to digitize early 20th century newspapers.
  • The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access is created to address the ecnomic sustainability of digital preservation programs.
  • NARA or National Archives and Records Administration implements the ERA system that preserves electronic records of the U.S. government.
  • PREMIS data Dictionary v. is released by the Library of Congress.
  • World Digital Library is created.
The historical outline was created using the timeline from Digital Preservation Management: Implementing Short-term strategies for Long-Term Problems from Cornell University 2007.  Found at the following link:


Jennifer Tully