Cambridge University Library launches
Digital Preservation Programme

Ensuring Current and Future Access to Digital Collections

Cambridge University Library, the main research library of the University of Cambridge

Cambridge University Library, the main research library of the University of Cambridge

Cambridge University Library, the main research library of the University of Cambridge

Cambridge University Libraries’ collections are of global importance and enable world-leading research to take place. This research is made possible by our readers being able to access these materials.

To ensure current and ongoing access to digital collection materials, a programme of work will soon begin to establish the Cambridge University Libraries Digital Preservation Service.

Led by the University Library, and with support from Cambridge University, this service will provide capabilities to care for digital collection materials and will be underpinned by open-source systems, tool, and standards. This approach will enable the library to meet the needs of its digital collections and users while also supporting open-source communities.

Reading this, you might find yourself asking, "What is digital preservation?" Put simply, it's a set of activities carried out on digital materials to ensure they can be accessed for as long as necessary.

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There are many challenges that the medium of digital poses to institutions that hold digital collections. These are just a few:

  • Digital material(s) can only be archived in digital form
  • An ever-changing digital landscape
  • Hardware and software dependencies

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for preservation: activities vary depending on the type and format of the material, amongst other factors. And the Libraries' digital collections will not stand still: they will continue to develop over time with new formats of materials being acquired or created.

The Libraries' digital collections are comprised of digitised versions of physical collection artefacts, research publications and data, born-digital institutional records and personal archives, amongst others materials.

Ensuring that digital collection materials can be accessed now and in the future is central to delivering the Libraries' vision to support education and research. Access to materials will also help to alert staff to any potential risks, allowing further action to be taken if necessary.

"The Digital Preservation Programme is the culmination of years of work at the Library and involvement in the digital preservation community. This is an exciting initiative that will further cement the Library's commitment to caring for its digital collections in support of research, teaching, and learning."

Dr. Jessica Gardner, University Librarian & Director of Library Services

Ensuring the longevity of digital collection materials is not new to the Library.

In 2007, Cambridge University Library joined the Digital Preservation Coalition as a full member. The DPC is a UK-based organisation established in 2001 to help its members deliver resilient long-term access to digital materials and services through training, outreach, as well as knowledge building and sharing.

Between 1998 and 2002, the Library was involved in the collaborative CEDARS project, which delivered best practice for digital preservation in libraries.

The Library's DSpace@Cambridge project set up the first preservation service for research data and other digital collection materials. Work to ingest materials into this repository was further informed by two JISC-funded projects that allowed the Library to focus on specific data types.

Later, the Cambridge University Preservation Development Programme (2009-2011) was the first of its kind to investigate the holistic preservation needs of the Library to inform the selection of systems and tools.

In 2013, the UK's Non-Print (electronic) Legal Deposit Regulations came into effect, and as one of the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries, Cambridge University Library contributes to the ongoing preservation and access to this collection of digitally published works that are made publicly available in the UK.

Between 2016 and 2018, and with funding from the Polonsky Foundation, the Digital Preservation Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC) project placed three fellows at the Library and three fellows at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, to determine the current digital preservation needs of both institutions.

The DPOC project focused on three areas of research - policy and planning, training and community outreach, and technical tools and workflows - and delivered recommendations for next steps.

It also led to the creation of the Libraries' first Digital Preservation Policy and Strategy.

More recently, the Library carried out a project to implement the open-source ArchivesSpace, an Archival Management System, for its own physical and digital archives as well as those held by other Cambridge University Libraries and college libraries.

The Digital Preservation Service will look across a lifecycle for managing digital collections materials.

This approach means that activities that help ensure longevity are embedded when materials are created or deposited, when they are accessed and used by readers, and the steps in between. This is because activities that help ensure access do not just happen once or at one stage.

They happen when and where needed and for as many times necessary.

A repository will be the central location for holding information about materials that will need to be submitted to a preservation system as well as non-archival materials that need to be managed for a period of time.

A preservation system will package materials (files and metadata) for submission to workflows that carry out activities that aid in their current and long-term preservation, management, and access. Such activities will help ensure that files are not corrupted and remain unchanged over time, that multiple copies are created and stored in different locations, and that files can be opened and viewed as expected.

The programme will also establish capabilities needed to support the Libraries' growing digital archives, particularly in areas of deposit by donors as well as appraisal, accessioning, and data recovery.

More information about the service will be shared once the programme begins and throughout. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch at: