Digital Preservation Glossary

The Basics:

Metadata: Latin term meaning “information about information.” In the digital realm, metadata is data that describes key information about the digital objects (image files, text files, digital audio/video) and, when appropriate, the original objects they represent. There are different kinds of ‘metadata’ including bibliographic or descriptive metadata, technical metadata, administrative metadata and structural metadata.[1]


Descriptive/Bibliographic Metadata: Information used to search and locate an object such as title, author, subjects, keywords, and publisher.


Technical Metadata: Information about aspects of the object often closely related either to its file format or the original software used to create the file. This may include things like the scanning equipment used to create a digital object and the settings used to create/modify it.



Administrative Metadata: Information needed to help manage the digital object. Often included in administrative metadata is copyright and preservation information.


Structural Metadata: Information on how the digital object is organized. This may include the page or chapter order of a book, its table of contents or indexes. Structural metadata is often used by software programs.


Digital preservation: The maintenance and management of digital objects, including both those that are born digital and were converted to digital format from analog, so that they can be accessed and used by future users.


Digital object: A representation of some piece of information in digital form. This can include many types of information, including word processing files, images, and digital audio files.


Migration: One of the strategies used in digital preservation. Migration involves changing the format of a file so it is able to be rendered with current hardware or software. This may cause changes in the ‘look or feel’ of a file.


Emulation: One of the strategies used in digital preservation. Emulation uses programs that imitate the original (obsolete or unavailable) hardware or software in order to render the original digital object.


Born Digital: A digital object that has never had an analog form. They differ from documents, movies and photographs that may have been scanned or converted to a digital format.


Digital Provenance: Information on the origin of a digital object and also on any changes that may have occurred over the course of its life cycle.


Format/Technology Obsolescence: Occurs when a piece of software or hardware is no longer in wide use or available at all. This causes it to be difficult or impossible to use any files that depend on this software or hardware.



Media deterioration/degradation: The breakdown of an analog object that holds digital objects potentially causing the objects on the media to no longer be retrievable.


Digital Repository: The organization or department responsible for the intake and maintenance of digital objects.


Dark Archive: An archive that does not grant public access and only preserves the information it contains. This can refer to a digital archive or repository as well as brick & mortar archive.


Refreshment: Copying a digital object from one media format, such as a CD, to another, such as a hard drive.


Render: “To make a Digital Object perceptible to a user.”[2] This is done through use of a software program and is often used when talking about the emulation of a digital object.


Standards Associated with Digital Preservation:

METS: Stands for Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard. A framework for describing certain pieces of essential information (metadata) about a digital object.


XML: Stands for Extensible Markup Language.One of the most common ways used to represent metadata.[3]


PREMIS: Stands for Preservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies. It is now in its second iteration. PREMIS metadata is contained within larger metadata schemas such as METS. PREMIS metadata structures and describes what sort of preservation has been done to a digital object. This might include taking the object into a new archive or changing the format of an object.


OAIS: OAIS is an acronym that stands for Open Archival Information System. It is an archival framework developed by the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS). The OAIS framework consists of an organization of people and systems who have accepted the responsibility to preserve information and make it available for a certain group of people. It does not offer a definitive guideline for how a digital repository should act or what it should do but instead gives the digital preservation community a common language and outlook for talking about digital preservation.


Ingest: One of the functions listed in the framework for OAIS. It involves taking an object (or objects) into a digital repository.


SIP: Submission Information Package. This is what a content provider deposits into a digital repository. Included within a SIP is not only the digital object(s) but also any other information that helps to describe and understand the object(s).


AIP: Archival Information Package. This is what is stored within a digital repository. Included within an AIP is not only the digital object (s) but also any other information that helps to describe and understand the object(s). An AIP may have undergone transformation from ingest as a SIP in order to conform to the standards of the digital repository. This may include change of format or the addition of metadata.

DIP: Dissemination Information Package. This is what is given to an end user for access purposes. Included within a DIP is not only the digital object(s) but also any other information that helps to describe and understand the object(s). The creation of a DIP from an AIP may involve some transformation of the object to make it suitable for end-users.

[1] Priscilla Caplan, Metadata fundamentals for Librarians, 3.

[2] PREMIS Data Dictionary 2.0, pg 214

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Last modified: 06/14/2018