Understanding the imperative and challenges of preserving digital media

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In the digital age, preserving our digital heritage — encompassing videos, audio recordings, and images — is crucial yet challenging. The rapid evolution of technology, the vulnerability of digital files to corruption, and the immense volume of digital content make preservation complex.

Rodrigo Coelho Ferreira
Rodrigo Coelho Ferreira
Global Product Manager | Iron Mountain Media & Archive Services
13 December 20237 mins

I am relatively new to the media and entertainment industry and its challenges. If you consider the advent of the motion picture camera in the late 19th century as its origins, we’re talking about an industry that is more than 120 years old. I have only been immersed in it for the last four years.

But despite my relatively short tenure in this industry, I’ve become deeply intrigued by our collective inability to solve an essential problem: how to preserve digital assets.

In an age where digital media is ubiquitous, the importance of preserving our digital heritage cannot be overstated. Archiving, and in particular, digital media preservation, involves safeguarding important digital content such as videos, audio recordings, and images that capture our history, culture, and personal milestones. This is not just about storing files on a hard drive; it's about ensuring that our digital legacies remain accessible and intact for future generations.

However, as I’ve been learning, seeing, and experiencing, this process doesn’t occur naturally or spontaneously. It requires conscious effort, resources, expertise and planning.

The Challenges of Digital Preservation

Preserving digital media is far from straightforward. Here’s why:

  1. The rapid evolution of technology means that the formats and devices we use today may become obsolete tomorrow, rendering the content unreadable.
  2. Digital files are prone to corruption over time, which can lead to loss of information or total inaccessibility (especially when stored on magnetic media like Hard Drives and LTO tapes, to mention the most common).
  3. The sheer volume of digital content being produced today presents a significant challenge in terms of storage, management, and organization.
  4. Proper digital preservation requires financial investment in storage solutions and human resources for effective management, which, if you think about it, are two hot commodities hard to find these days: budget and available experts.

All of these challenges require attention, time, financial investment, and a deep understanding of how to tackle/overcome them. And, to make matters worse, we tend to underestimate and under-budget for these projects.

So, what can we do about it?

Overcoming Preservation Challenges

We can start with key foundational best practices and/or strategies, such as:

  1. Regularly Update Storage Formats: As technology evolves, it's crucial to transfer digital content to newer, more stable formats to avoid obsolescence.
  2. Implement Redundant Storage Solutions: Utilizing multiple storage locations and formats can safeguard against data loss due to hardware failure.
  3. Invest in Professional Archiving Services: For valuable or voluminous digital collections, professional archiving services can provide the necessary expertise and resources that you might lack (or just don’t have the time for).
  4. Metadata and Organization: Proper labeling and organizing of digital content through clear and organized metadata make it easier to manage, access, and preserve over the long term.

These are simple points to understand, and they may be obvious to you. But executing them requires the aforementioned care, time, dedicated effort, and know-how because it’s a lot of work - even for those who know how to do it. Imagine for those who need to learn on the fly. Not that trivial, would you agree?

On top of all of that, we live in a world that is being drastically transformed by technology. Advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning will revolutionize how we store and access digital content. Cloud storage technologies are becoming more sophisticated, offering more durable and scalable solutions. We also see companies, like our team at Iron Mountain Media and Archive Services, actively working on education and market awareness of the importance of digital preservation, leading to better practices and more user-friendly solutions.

In conclusion, digital media preservation is an essential but complex task. It’s a process that demands our attention and care. By understanding its importance, acknowledging the challenges, and embracing effective strategies, we will ensure that our digital legacy endures for future generations to appreciate and learn from (or at least to be used to train large language models! Just kidding … kind of!).

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