Sunday, October 20, 2013

10 Laws of Digital Preservation

A few days ago I posted Paul Banks' 10 Laws of Preservation. I concluded post acknowledging that these 10 laws were book/document focused and that I would be interested in reading 10 laws of digital preservation.

Well, someone has taken me up on that challenge. Dave Thompson, digital curator at the Wellcome Library, London, happened across my blog post and offered up his 10 Laws of Digital Preservation. With his permission, I present them here.

While Banks' and Thompson's "laws" are their individual thoughts and not the consensus of their larger disciplines, they do present some interesting differences in what preservation means for print and for digital collections. 

10 Laws of Digital Preservation 
1. The game changes. Data is created in one context, but preserved in many. 
2. The point of preservation is access & managed access supports that. 
3. Only data that can be rendered can be meaningful. 
4. Data, even well preserved data, can render differently in different 
5. Many copies help keep data safe but in many different contexts. 
6. Data life is finite but manifestations perpetuate the data. 
7. Inadvertent or unidentified data corruption is worse than data loss. 
8. Physical data-media doesn't always contain relevant information. 
9. Data without metadata is meaningless. 
10. There is no such thing as a digital original & original order is an arbitrary 
construct based upon rendering. 

I’m not suggesting these are the only or the definitive laws. There may be others, or 
I may be quite incorrect in my thinking. 
Feel free to challenge these. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong. Feel free to form your 
own opinion. 
Dave Thompson, October 2013. 
Tweet me @D_N_T

I too would be curious to hear from readers their thoughts one either sets of "laws." And now that we've got one set each of book/document preservation laws and digital preservation laws how about an attempt at a set of 10 preservation laws that are applicable regardless of media.


  1. Good set of rules! Though coming from an archives background, we emphasize capturing the best representation of a physical object possible when digitizing and are dedicated to keeping unaltered digital "master" copies of these items. Of course rendering is often necessary to facilitate access but it alters the file in the new file's creation (i.e. any sort on processing or compression). Being forward thinking, this list is right-on by taking future technologies into account, but I hope that we keep in mind our current digital file formats (in this case original captures) as we move forward.

  2. Those rules are spot on, especially #9. Some people think that just having digital copies is enough to provide access to others, but they forget that metadata assists in cataloging the digital copy by providing information to categorize them in, thus making it easier to search for.

    Ruby Badcoe