Arguing the case for Digital Preservation: Are you a ‘passavist’?

Arguing the case for Digital Preservation: Are you a ‘passavist’?

By Georgia Moppet, Community Officer at the OPF.


It’s World Digital Preservation Day (WDPD)! As our community prepares to celebrate the benefits and opportunities we have collaboratively built, we thought it was high time we acknowledged the difficulties in making a case for digital preservation solutions. 

We at the Open Preservation Foundation have always striven to facilitate a network to encourage securing a sustainable future for our digital assets.


OPF’s Executive Director, Julie Allen, once said that:

‘Digital preservation can be a stumbling block for organisations’, and she coined the term ‘passavists’ for passive archivists in the face of preservationist tools. 

Everyone has a different understanding of digital preservation, and it’s frequently overlooked until it’s too late. We need to be more conscious of growing digital culture, data regulations, and cost effectiveness. It’s important that organisations see the value in digital preservation strategy before problems arise. 

The investment of both time and money is often departmentally and situationally difficult to find. But, to preserve our data, we must find an effective approach with appropriate processes and tools. 

The initial proposal to make the case of investing in tools is a difficult one; digital preservation is a specialisation. The development of acknowledging the need for it, to actually doing something about it is a challenge. 

We understand that many IT and departmental managers will have little or no awareness of long-term data management. But this often means you have to educate the decision-makers, and simultaneously sell the prospect of a potentially expensive digital preservation journey. 


World Digital Preservation Day is a great time to re-examine the value of digital archiving and preservation and drive change within your organisation. The myriad of resources released during this time will undoubtedly bolster your case. And there is little harm in re-familiarising with the basics.

Meeting expectations of compliance is a necessity. Records may not be needed for their original purpose, but their contents can be useful. Reconstructing a process or proving data integrity is required in many research communities as a safeguarding measure. Without the correct preservation principals in place the future of your organisation is at risk. We must also recognise the potential costs of non-compliance, in both financial and reputational damage. 

Certain industries are more likely to consider compliance regulations than others. Healthcare companies store large amounts of sensitive and personal patient data, and academic institutions often have funding bodies, research councils and governments that mandate all research data be kept for at least ten years. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)  is one of a number of UK funding bodies to issue guidance on data policy. They say that data needs to be openly available, and managed in line with best practice.

GDPR can be considered as the world’s strongest set of data compliance regulations, and applies to every sector. The full text of GDPR within the EU is an unwieldy beast. While there are sources that provide accessible explanations, the bottom line is that  organisations have a duty of care, requiring them to protect personal information from loss, alteration or unauthorised processing. This lays the responsibility of compliance at our feet, as the data owners. 

Cost efficiencies are also at the forefront of most digital preservation discussions. Fortunately, the increases in operational efficiency are often quick, tangible and easy to demonstrate:

  • easier access to data, 
  • minimization of duplicated work, 
  • increase in time due to availability of information. 

Any method of measuring the cost of inaccuracy and duplication in your organisation’s current set up will support your case. There is always a cost to not addressing the need for digital preservation, but as we have previously insinuated they are not always financial:


At OPF we work to advance shared standards and solutions for the long-term preservation of digital content. This often involves working together on projects, and the innovation of new technologies and ideas. But there is the opportunity for other dialogues and questions to address within the technical community: does your organisation have any previous digital preservation projects you could be aware of? Could they compare to other institutions’ efforts? If they have been unsuccessful, then make sure you factor any lessons learned from others into your own business case and project plans. And look for any comparative infrastructure or open source community expertise that you can make use of.


As noted by The National Archives UK,

Your approach to Digital Preservation should be modular and flexible, to ensure it is sustainable. A combination of tools and technology … may be the most cost-effective means of achieving this flexibility.’

The OPF are here to facilitate the networks to support your organisations on their digital journeys. The continued accessibility of digital assets indicates that our sector will only grow bigger, the tools improved, and the networks more varied. 


Digital preservation continues to generate larger volumes of digital assets in an increasing variety of file formats. Therefore, file formats are at a constant risk of becoming outdated and incomprehensible. The OPF facilitates a working group to discuss issues related to file formats and deliver  a new resource that compares the accepted and preferred file formats used in digital preservation strategies at cultural heritage and research institutions around the world. 


The issues addressed in this blog are conversations that will become increasingly popular, and the questions will grow: How does digital preservation maintain or increase its relevance in the face of changing priorities? How do we continue to ask the right questions about digital preservation in this context? But, within this sector, there will always be more questions than answers. The singular constant remains the enthusiasm that fuels the continuation and development technologies and the tools. 


By Georgia Moppet, Community Officer at the OPF.


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