Preserving cultural heritage


Physically and digitally protecting iconic monuments, artefacts, and documents that serve as historical records educate subsequent generations and give them a sense of identity.

December 1, 202312 mins
cultural heritage


Physically and digitally protecting iconic monuments, artefacts, and documents that serve as historical records educate subsequent generations and give them a sense of identity.

Fending off dystopia

Climate change, war, terrorism, natural disasters, and other occurrences are a continual threat to the world’s most sacred and valuable icons. As these spectres seemingly loom larger than ever, we can take steps to ensure that our physical, spoken, and digital cultures persevere far into the future.

Preservation is important to people, the only species able to perceive that the world will endure beyond their own lifespans. They’re also the only creatures that try to understand their origins. As such, humans have created ways of life — cultures — that reflect their traditions, values, behaviours, and progress. They pass their cultural heritage on to future generations to educate them and to promote a sense of identity, continuity, and belonging. Perhaps most importantly, preserving cultures enhances our ability to embrace a broad array of perspectives as we strive to solve the existential problems of the day, from climate risks to global pandemics.

“Cultural preservation” describes the activities we undertake to maintain our many cultures, whether ancient or modern, from the largest nations to small indigenous tribes. It can include, for example, preserving and restoring relics, physically and digitally storing iconic documents and works of art, and encouraging the continued practice of languages and rituals.

Often, partnerships help lead the cultural preservation charge. For example, some combination of governments, religious organisations, communities, nonprofits, archaeologists, and businesses will take on projects and create policies for overseeing the maintenance, protection, and restoration of certain aspects of one or more cultures.

At a glance: Iron Mountain and cultural preservation

Through physical and digital storage, information management, and partnerships, Iron Mountain participates in a number of programs and projects for keeping cultural heritage alive.

Underground storage. One way the company achieves its preservation objectives is with “The Underground,” a secure storage facility built in 1951. It lies 220 feet below ground in a massive, naturally protected former limestone mine. Encompassing 1.8 million square feet, it has been designed to withstand extreme temperatures, humidity, natural disasters, and pests. The Underground offers a suite of services for information storage, quick retrieval, and digitization in a wide range of formats. Over 2,300 companies worldwide trust their vital records to The Underground.

Living Legacy initiative: Grants, and services. Through its Living Legacy Initiative, Iron Mountain maintains an archive that’s currently preserving more than 120 TB of data from 206 cultural heritage sites spanning 42 countries on all seven continents. Living Legacy helps museums and other nonprofit institutions protect and provide access to cultural and heritage data resources with a combination of financial grants, services, partnerships, and customised management expertise. Among Iron Mountain’s many Living Legacy partners are The British Film Institute, The Tulalip Foundation, the Military Women’s Memorial, the National World War II Museum, the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, and the Lincoln Presidential Foundation.

Other solutions Iron Mountain offers for preserving physical and digital records and files:

Tools of the trade

Any industry, group, or organisation concerned with cultural preservation or restoration needs a plan of action. Without one, valuable information related to entertainment, arts and culture, scientific research, or any other form of intellectual property could be forever lost.

Among the many preservation tools are the following:

Physical asset protection. This action involves storing objects or documents in a way that helps ensure a long lifespan with minimal damage or degradation. Storage can be underground or in another location that controls temperature, manages relative humidity, and uses ventilation and filtration systems to remove atmospheric pollutants. These setups often also monitor for pests that could harm the stored items.

Digitisation. Scanning documents and works of art not created digitally renders them storable and retrievable online, so they can be viewed and enjoyed by generations to come

Digital asset protection. Increasingly, new documents and other types of content are created digitally. Because electronic formats and media change over time — consider, for example, the fate of floppy drives, VHS and cassette tapes, and even Zip drives — the main goal is to ensure the continued accessibility of digital content regardless of the format in which it was originally created. Such a strategy encompasses a broad range of disciplines, including records and information management, data migration and restoration. As part of the process, the integrity of data must be preserved in order to protect it from later alteration or manipulation.

Reconstruction-assistance technologies. Natural and man-made disasters can destroy or greatly damage precious historical sites and artefacts. Repairing or reassembling them might take several generations of work, particularly if there’s a lack of information on how the original looked.

Safeguarding hi-res digital files

As mentioned, CyArk is an Iron Mountain partner; it’s also a customer. Its advanced scanning, photography, and 3D modelling of historic sites require ever-larger data stores in the most cost-effective manner possible.

A few years back, the nonprofit faced the challenge of digitally preserving 500 sites over the coming five years, prompting the organisation to look for a more efficient way to manage its data. CyArk predicted its data archive would grow by 30 percent each year for the foreseeable future, or 1 to 2PB in five years. So it needed a data protection, management, and archiving solution that could scale into the future.

Iron Mountain teamed with technology partners Crossroads Systems and Spectra Logic to create a solution that combined the cost efficiency and longevity of tape with the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) open standard. LTFS provides indexes of the tape contents, making its metadata searchable and more quickly recovered than traditional tape solutions. Crossroads’ StrongBox file-based, intelligent caching appliance enabled CyArk to view an entire tape library as a standard disk on Network Attached Storage (NAS).

CyArk data is written to two high-capacity tapes. The first is stored locally in a Spectra Logic T950 library, which continuously monitors the health of each tape and its data, to help ensure the ongoing integrity of Cyark’s preservation efforts. The second tape is designated for offsite storage and transported using Iron Mountain MediaCare, which ensures that every tape is handled following proven security procedures. Iron Mountain Offsite Tape Vaulting stores this media in a secure, environmentally controlled, underground facility to help ensure the long-term safety and accessibility of its archival data.

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