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SFU Library Digital Preservation Framework

SFU Library Digital Preservation Framework and Action Plans

The SFU Library Digital Preservation Framework (DPF) identifies high-level principles and priorities for implementing digital preservation action plans for content groups identified by the SFU Library in support of its Strategic Plan. Action plans document decisions around stewardship of each content group, and they document the processes, general workflows, and toolsets that implement those decisions. Each action plan is detailed in its own document.

The DPF is intended to compliment, and not compete with, other University and Library policies and practices.

Guiding Principles of the Framework and Action Plans

The DPF and action plans for individual content groups (defined below) should adhere to the following principles:

  • Have clear ownership: Responsibility for specific actions relating to the DPF and action plans should be clearly and unambiguously defined. Each action plan should indicate which Library division is responsible for which processes.
  • Be systematic: Decisions that impact policies, strategies, processes, and outcomes should be systematic. Goals of the DFP should align with SFU Library’s print preservation plan, collection policies, and strategic plan, where applicable.
  • Be selective: The framework and action plans must recognize that SFU Library cannot (and does not want to) preserve everything or to preserve all of its digital resources to the same level. In order to be selective, each action plan must clearly define criteria for selecting content for preservation and present a rationale for preserving the content.
  • Be sustainable: The DFP and action plans must be technologically, organizationally, and financially sustainable. To this end, they should consider collaborative activity where applicable and use community-accepted standards (e.g. Library of Congress format recommendations, PREMIS preservation metadata) where applicable. Where commonly accepted standards are not used, the action plans must provide a justification for why we would not use a standard.
  • Be fault tolerant: No one individual within the SFU Library should be the guardian of knowledge about policies, processes or tools implemented in the action plans. Developing and maintaining thorough documentation is essential. 
  • Be transparent: The DPF and action plans should be expressed in public documents, and the Library should be prepared to defend its policies and practices to its user communities. Each action plan must clearly state the preservation level and associated access goals for each content group.
  • Be flexible: The DPF and action plans must be able to change in reaction to organizational, environmental, and technological change, positive or negative. They should be subject to periodic review to adjust priorities and evaluate effectiveness.
  • Be achievable: Each action plan must define testable and achievable success measures, which should be tested as part of a periodic review.

The SFU Library Digital Preservation Framework does not strive to adhere to requirements defining Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification (TRAC), but may incorporate some aspects of TRAC if required to do so by external organizations.

Content Groups

This prioritized list identifies "groups" of digital content that the SFU Library considers worth making accessible in the indeterminate future.

Additional groups may be added as needed, and a content group’s priority may change over time to realign with the Library’s overall strategic plan. Groups can be defined in a variety of ways, but for the most part, content within a group shares a provenance (such as electronic theses), or is created as the result of a specific service provided by the Library to its users (such as research data curation):

  1. electronic theses and dissertations (owner: Research Commons)
  2. general digitized collections, e.g., local physical holdings from Special Collections, Scholarly Digitization Fund, large-scale collaborative projects such as Multicultural Canada & Komagata Maru (owner: Digital Library Services)
  3. high-risk physical holdings requiring immediate reformatting, e.g. fragile audio tapes in Special Collections (owner: Special Collections and Rare Books)
  4. born-digital content held in Special Collections (e.g., lose magnetic and optical media; laptop hard drives) (owner: Special Collections and Rare Books)
  5. research data generated by SFU researchers and curated by the Library (owner: Research Commons)
  6. general institutional repository content, excluding electronic theses and dissertations (owner: Collections Management)
  7. websites (owner: Collections Management)
  8. digital content acquired from commercial vendors (owner: Collections Management)

Operational details of the preservation processes and workflows applied to each content group are articulated in an action plan. In general, each content group will have one action plan. If the Library considers creating an additional action plan for a content group, it is likely that the content group is too general and a new group should be created.


The Digital Preservation Framework and action plans are overseen by the SFU Library Digital Preservation Working Group. The Group’s functions, informed by the Guiding Principles defined above, are:

  1. to ensure that the Digital Preservation Framework and action plans are being implemented in ways that support the Library’s strategic plan,
  2. to make decisions in reaction to the wider SFU environment and to general trends in digital preservation that may impact the Library’s preservation activities, and
  3. to lead strategic planning to ensure that the long-term goals of the Digital Preservation Framework are met, including re-prioritizing the content groups if necessary.

Each action plan for a content group is “owned” by a Library Division. Ownership does not imply that the division is solely or even chiefly responsible for the labour involved in implementing the action plan, only that it is chiefly responsible for ensuring that the action plan is consistent with and supports the Library’s overall strategic plan.

Each division that owns an action plan will appoint a member to sit on the Digital Preservation Working Group. Individuals from other Library divisions, and from other relevant units on campus such as the SFU Archives, may also be appointed to this working group as needed. The Group will be chaired by the Head of Library Systems.

Preservation Levels and Access Goals

Operationally, the Digital Preservation Framework defines a set of “preservation levels” that describe in general terms the types of processes (and the corresponding amount of resources) that will be applied to each content group to ensure that it is accessible in specific ways in the indefinite future. The four levels are:

Level Brief description Access goal Success measures
1 (bit preservation) SFU Library ensures bit-level integrity of files over time. Authorized users can get a copy of the files that make up a resource (photo, book, movie, etc.) in the same format that it was in when it enters the Library’s preservation workflows. Bit-level preservation does not ensure that the files will be accessible in software used at the time of access. Checksum derived for a file when it enters the Library’s preservation workflows is identical to the checksum derived in the future.
2 (normalization) At time of capture or ingest, SFU Library normalizes content into open formats, which are then preserved along with the original at preservation level 1 (bit-level integrity). Normalization does not imply ongoing format migration (level 3). Authorized users can get a copy of the files that make up a resource in an open, non-proprietary format that was current at time of capture or ingest, with significant characteristics of the original reasonably intact. The normalized version of all files that make up a resource have checksums that are identical to ones derived at the time of normalization.
3 (format migration) As formats of files created by normalization become technologically obsolete over time, the Library migrates content to contemporary, open formats. Migrations to new formats is essentially the same as normalization at time of ingest, except that it happens some time in the future as required. Original files are preserved at level 1 (bit-level integrity).
Authorized users can access the resource in file formats that are current at the time of access. Files may not correspond one-to-one with the original files, but the significant characteristics of the original resource will be reasonably intact.
The migrated version of the resource retains as many of the significant characteristics of the obsolete version as is practical. Migrated versions of the original are usable in software common at time of access.
4 (emulation)
SFU Library preserves the original files so that they can be viewed, played, or used in an appropriate manner within a computing environment that emulates the one that was current at the time the files were created. Original files are preserved at level 1 (bit-level integrity).
Authorized users can access the original files in a computing environment that is similar to the one the files were designed for. Significant characteristics of the original file are unaltered.
All significant characteristics of the original files are intact, since the computing environment they are tested within in the future is reasonably identical to their original environment. Original files are renderable in a suitable emulation environment.

In the above table,

  • “Access goal” describes the type of activity that users of the preserved content are anticipated to be able to perform in the indeterminate future. It does not refer to specific platforms or user interfaces for accessing the content.
  • “Success measure” identifies activities that Library staff or external organizations can perform on a routine basis to verify that the access goal can be achieved. Pragmatically, success measures will be used to periodically audit preserved content on a pass/fail basis.
  • “Significant characteristics” are the characteristics of a digital object that make it accessible and useful. For example, a textual document not only has content but also layout, pagination, and fonts. The SFU Digital Preservation Framework will use the significant characteristics defined by Archivematica since they represent a thoroughly researched, community-based, operationally tenable set of characteristics.

At all four preservation levels, minimal descriptive, structural, rights, and technical metadata is preserved along with the content files, as detailed in each content group’s action plan. The descriptive, structural, rights, and technical metadata define for each content group will support the activities required by the preservation level for that content group.

In addition, at all four levels, the SFU Library will retain at least two copies of the digital content, one within the preservation repository and one using standard backup technologies. Additional copies of the content may be required by individual action plans.

Action Plans

Each content group will be preserved according to details documented in an action plan. Each action plan contains the following sections:

  1. Title of action plan
  2. Primary owner of the action plan
  3. Scope of the action plan
  4. Criteria for selection of content covered by this action plan
  5. Impact of loss
  6. Preservation level and access goals for this content
  7. Preservation metadata management processes (including what is preserved and how)
  8. Audit process for this action plan (including audit log)
  9. Preservation actions, including details of digital object management such as ingest procedures, storage, metadata management; tool chains used by this action plan; and access management for the content covered by the plan.
  10. Review and succession criteria

Currently the content groups named above that have operational action plans are:

All three action plans commit to preservation and access level 1 (bit preservation).