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Preserving data for centuries

When our Data Protection Officer, Susan Graham, offered to review the draft set of Data Architecture Principles, I was expecting her to comment on legal requirements to minimise access to personal data, or similar concerns.  I wasn't expecting a recommendation to preserve data for centuries, but one of her suggestions addresses exactly that.  In her words,
The University has an excellent collection of historic records, from the time of the University's foundation onwards.  This archive is a valuable resource for research, public relations and corporate memory.  Information previously recorded in written records is now being recorded in information systems.  For example, the archive contains a register of every matriculated student from 1627 to 1980.  It would be regrettable if the transition to digital meant that the modern equivalent of these records was not preserved for posterity.
So I have modified our principle that projects should understand the data life cycle from creation through update to deletion, so that it now allows the possibility of permanent preservation as an alternative to deletion.

By coincidence, this message was reinforced by a session I attended last week about the Digital Strong Room project, given our Digital Preservation Curator, Kirsty Lee.   This project aims to preserve records for up to a hundred years.  This is no mean task, as we don't know what data formats the future will bring, nor which systems people will use to read them.  (By the way, the history of data preservation is fascinating - if you get the chance, it's well worth reading about).

As Kirsty explains, digital preservation is not about storing a document on a disk and forgetting about it.  Digital preservation requires the active management of digital material to ensure ongoing access to the information it holds.  We are using Archivematica, a collection of open-source tools that handle aspects of preservation from ingest to access.  The project will first instantiate this for preserving records of the University Court, and will then extend this to other documents. 

This project doesn't impact the enterprise architecture directly, but the need to consider long-term preservation needs to be built into our project methodology, and people need to be aware of this possibility.


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