SPEC Kit 325: Digital Preservation  · 9
Executive Summary
Introduction
ARL member libraries increasingly create, acquire,
disseminate, and curate both digitized and born digi-
tal content. As a result, they have a growing awareness
of and a pressing need for information on field-wide
activities and plans to support the life cycle needs of
these digital collections. Until now, however, rela-
tively little information has been gathered or reported
about ARL libraries’ digital preservation practices and
policies. This was the first SPEC survey to focus on the
preservation of digital, rather than physical, materi-
als. The definition of digital preservation includes the
policies, strategies, and actions that ensure access to
digital content over time.
The survey sought to identify the strategies that
ARL member institutions use to protect evolving re-
search collections and to describe the roles and re-
sponsibilities of stakeholders. It asked ARL libraries
about their digital content, their strategies for preserv-
ing that content, and the staff, time, and funding they
currently devote to digital preservation. It also asked
each responding library to compare its digital preser-
vation activities of three years ago to current activities
and project three years into the future. In addition, to
better understand the roles of research libraries in the
emergent field of digital curation, the survey sought
to identify issues that are and are not being addressed
through current practices and policies.
The survey was conducted between March 14 and
April 18, 2011. Sixty-four ARL members completed the
survey for a response rate of 51%. Using the survey
data and open-ended comments, this report sum-
marizes how those libraries currently think about
the preservation of their digital collections and what
preservation activities they are now undertaking.
Digital Content
The survey asked what types of digital content the li-
brary licenses or manages for its institution and which
content it is investing in for the purpose of preserva-
tion. Almost every library responding to this survey is
responsible for managing digitized special collections,
licensed materials (e.g., ejournals and databases), still
images, electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs),
moving images, and audio materials. Fewer than a
third identified research data (including data sets and
geospatial data), mass digitization collections, or art
databases as current responsibilities, and only a hand-
ful manage web-harvested materials (19 or 30%) or
computer games (12 or 19%).
Eighty percent of the responding libraries (51 of 64)
now preserve some of their digital content and anoth-
er 16% plan to do so in the future. One astute respon-
dent commented, “This content [we have purchased
or licensed from publishers] represents a significant
investment of resources, whether financial, staff, or
technology.” Another pointed out that ensuring in-
vestments in digital preservation is “our only way to
guarantee continued access to (scholarly) information
in the future.”
Only three respondents are not planning to pre-
serve digital content at all. They cited the lack of ex-
perienced staff, funding for hardware and software,
and institution-wide policies and strategies for digital
preservation as significant barriers to preservation.
Support, and ultimately approval from upper admin-
istration, for policies and strategies is deemed critical.
The categories of digital resources that most librar-
ies are managing for their institutions are also the
resources that most have chosen to preserve: digitized
special collections, still images, ETDs, audio materials,
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