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‘No such thing as free digital preservation’ by Jan Dalsten Sørensen

According to a famous saying, there is “no such thing as a free lunch.” We need to understand that if we want something, there is usually a price tag attached. This is certainly also true for long-term digital preservation. 

At the Danish National Archives we have chosen a strategy that implies that the authorities must migrate their data and documents to a few well-defined preservation formats at the time of transfer.

According to Danish legislation, the records creators must pay for the expenses in connection with the submission of records to the National Archives themselves. The submission of paper records is by no means free, either, but it seems like the submission of digital records has a tendency to have a larger price tag than necessary attached.

As a part of our present framework agreement with the Department of Culture about the tasks and focus for the National Archives in the coming years, we have therefore agreed to conduct a survey about efficiency improvements with regards the process of transfer among authorities and their suppliers of IT services insofar as these suppliers also help the authorities produce their submission information packages of digital records.

The overall idea is to identify those elements in the processes of SIP-creation and transfer that are the most cost-intensive for both authorities and the National Archives. The costs of the suppliers are of course very important to identify as well.

Our first step has been to gather interested authorities to a “focus group” meeting where they could share and discuss experiences and attitudes; not towards a product or political ideas, as is often the case with focus groups, but towards the process of submitting digital records to the National Archives. We have had separate focus groups for state authorities and municipal/regional authorities.

We are also in the process of interviewing a number of the IT suppliers that are most experienced in terms of the production of SIPs from the IT systems that they have supplied to public authorities – or, in some cases, even systems that have been supplied by other vendors. We have strongly encouraged the authorities to not restrict themselves to using the supplier of a specific IT system for the production of a SIP if an alternative supplier is able to do it at a lower price.

The interviews with the suppliers are conducted one supplier at the time, rather than with everyone present in the same focus group. Our experience is that the suppliers are less likely to talk freely if their competitors are present, so we gathered that we would get the most useful input if we arranged separate interviews with the relevant suppliers.

Once all the interviews are done and all the input from them and the focus group meetings has been processed, we hope to be able to pinpoint the most costly processes and draft an action plan designed to reduce the costs. 

We are keen to share the results with the 4C community to inform the project, so stay tuned!

Jan Dalsten Sørensen, Danish National Archives

Jan is head of the Section for Digital Archiving at the Danish National Archives – one of the 4C Project partners.