As research becomes increasingly data-centric, the job of archives to manage, curate, preserve and share data is essential. Greater storage capacity plus computing power allows us to keep greater amounts of, and do more with, data. Factor in new forms like transactional or geospatial data, and innovative software for creation or visualization of data, and it seems that this is the data age.
While these developments open novel and exciting possibilities for research, they present a challenge to those responsible for preserving and making data accessible in the future. Digital archives – be they part of discipline-specific “traditional” archives, institutional repositories, or project-specific repository systems – play a central role as a supplier of data for researchers who use data to analyze or teach, and as a reliable provider of services to those seeking to securely store research data.
In the social sciences and humanities, the quality of data is strongly dependent on human effort. Therefore, social science archives play a role as more than storage facilities but active regulators helping ensure the quality of data and also sustaining its intellectual value for generations.
Digital preservation can be defined as “the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary". It entails "all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological change” (Digital Preservation Coalition, 2008).
More specifically, "doing" digital preservation means addressing the following issues:
- Data appraisal and ingest: which data do we preserve, and how does it come to the archive?
- Documentation and metadata: Which information is required to make sure that archived data can be found, accessed, and understood - now and in the future?
- Access and re-use: Who is allowed to access and re-use data, and under which conditions?
- Preservation strategies: How do we ensure that digital data can be used and understood in the future, especially in the face of technological change?
- Policies: Which policies have to be developed and implemented to support and govern digital preservation and data sharing on the organizational and community level?
- Trust and certification: How can archives ensure that they operate according to community standards, and how can they increase trust among their stakeholders?