Making and keeping digital information accessible in a sustainable way involves major challenges, including the ongoing development of media and technology and the wide variety of software formats, file formats and information carriers used. Het Nieuwe Instituut therefore commissioned research studies of two strategies for keeping files readable and usable: migration and emulation.
Designers and architects use various types of software in their work. As a result, the digital collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut contains all kinds of file format. Furthermore, the environments (software, operating systems, hardware) in which all these were created will inevitably become obsolete, making the digital objects unreadable. Software is often supplier dependent and its specifications are not public. File formats, like the software used to create them, frequently have complex technical structures. This means that there is a great risk that files will not be readable in the future, and that all kinds of misrepresentation and loss of information will result.
The National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning contains increasing numbers of digital archives, in addition to analogue materials. In order to preserve the digital collection, it is important to determine how to keep these files readable and usable. This is an aspect of the implementation of the preservation policy. There are two possible strategies. One is migrating files to a more open file format, such as PDF. This migration is known as normalisation when a set of open ‘target’ file formats is defined. The second strategy is emulation, which involves emulating the environment in which files were created. For Het Nieuwe Instituut, Henk Vanstappen (Datable) conducted research studies into the two strategies.
Migration as a preservation strategy
AutoCAD DWG and DXF file formats are extremely common in our digital collection. The research study A preservation Policy for the AutoCAD DWG/DXF File Format considers the option of migration and normalisation as a preservation strategy. CAD files have a complex technical structure and cannot easily be migrated to more open file formats without loss of information. The report looks at the properties of the software and file formats and the preservation risks that go with them. It identifies possible strategies, as well as investigating which file formats can be considered ‘open’. The study also pays attention to execution of the strategy in the ingest of digital files into the archive and the maintenance workflows of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s preservation environment. Finally, usability and readability are considered for the designated community, as well as exploring which viewers could be used.
Emulation as a service
The research report Emulation as a Service as a Preservation Strategy discusses the possibilities of preserving information in its authentic form by using emulation as a strategy. An institute can develop its own emulation environment. However, this presents huge demands. A better option is to use emulation as a service (EaaS). The report describes opportunities and preconditions concerning the availability of software, legal considerations, technology and the availability of emulation environments, metadata and organisation and costs. The report further considers EaaS within the framework of appraisal and selection, the pre-ingest phase and recognising and defining a designated community. The importance of cooperation is also explained. Finally, the report indicates some of the most important demands which EaaS would place on the preservation environment of Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Setting up Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Digital Archive
Het Nieuwe Instituut is acquiring increasing numbers of digital archives of architects, urban planners and organisations working within these domains. This calls for a new approach to the sustainable management of digital materials. After a test project, the Digital Archive will be set up in 2020. This will facilitate the effective, correct and controllable management and preservation of the digital collection.
Digital information is a broad concept, not only in terms of collections, but also when it comes to materials and sources. Making and keeping digital information sustainably accessible involves major challenges, such as the ongoing changes to media and technology, the wide variety of software formats, file formats and information carriers, the exponential growth of digital information, and identifying which information should be stored. This preservation policy underscores the accountability for the definition of preservation and Het Nieuwe Instituut’s approach.