Skip to content

Digital preservation aims to ensure that digital information remains accessible and usable. Across the institution, each one of us is constantly creating digital records. To enable the long-term preservation of our records, we have launched a project led by the archivist, records manager and the research data manager to coordinate our approaches to digital preservation across the university.

Here you can find out more about digital preservation, steps you can take to protect your records, and how to get in touch with us.

Digital preservation at St George's

View all Close all
What is digital preservation?

Digital preservation is ‘all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organisational change’ (as defined by the Digital Preservation Coalition).

With ever-increasing volume of information created by all of us in digital format both in professional and personal contexts, there is an urgent need to manage all this information. We all have encountered files we can no longer open, and most of us would now struggle accessing the necessary technology to read a floppy disk or listen to an audio cassette: our digital content can very easily be lost, unless we take steps to preserve it.

Digital preservation does not mean preserving everything we produce, but there are certain types of records we should preserve for a limited time, to comply with legislative requirements, and research data where St George’s needs to meet sponsors’ requirements for ensuring the longevity of the data. Some (but not all) of these records will eventually be transferred into the archives to be preserved indefinitely to ensure we retain our culture and history. Digital preservation means that our digital assets can be accessed and re-used as long as we need them.

Any digital object may need to be considered for digital preservation, whether it is a digitised file or born digital record created at work or at home. Databases, images, word documents, tweets, e-mails, music, games, and websites can all require digital preservation. Nor should we wait until the records are ‘historical’ before taking steps to preserve them: technology moves on so fast that things created only a few years ago can already in some cases be inaccessible. By undertaking digital preservation activities, we aim to prevent the risk of losing access to our digital assets protecting against hardware and software obsolescence. 

This chart illustrates the so-called life cycle of a record. Questions of preservation should be taken into account from the beginning, to enable not only the initial use but also access and re-use of the record in the future.

This above chart illustrates the so-called lifecycle of a record. Questions of preservation should be taken into account from the beginning, to enable not only the initial use but also access and re-use of the record in the future.

The image below shows the lifespan of some common storage media (source:, illustrating how fragile many of the common storage media are, and how quickly methods and formats can become obsolete. Where cloud-based services were previously seen as more secure, the dangers of relying solely on them have become more apparent. The Digital Preservation Coalition which regularly updates a so-called 'bit list' of vulnerable digital formats classifies cloud storage as 'endangered' in its newest edition in 2021. From floppy disks with the maximum lifespan of 30 years (provided they are not regularly used and are handled with care), to  a hard drive with a potential lifespan of 100 years (again, provided it is not actually in use), the chart illustrates the need to take immediate steps to protect the information contained within these containers. What do you do if all your important data are stored on a USB flash drive which crashes (or is simply lost)? Even digital photographs are predicted to have a lifespan of no more than 50 years. Emulation (recreating the original computer environment) or migration (transferring the content to a more current format) of data can mitigate against the failure of particular storage media or obsolete formats. 


Digital preservation at St George's

Who we are

Digital preservation aims to give St George’s the ability to retain access to our digital records. Digital preservation, in order to be successful, must reach across the whole organization.  At St George’s, we are taking a cross-institutional approach to digital preservation and the core project team consists of the records manager, archivist and research data support manager.  

Members of Information Services, Governance, Legal, and Assurance Services, External Relations Communications & Marketing, and the JRES provide advice and guidance to the project team.  We welcome input from everyone at SGUL, so please get in touch with us – the earlier the better!

The core team consists of

What we do

St George’s acquired the digital preservation system Preservica as part of a Jisc-funded project in 2017. A pilot project tested the software, and the team has since developed workflows and procedures for metadata, file formats and for managing and uploading various types of digital material into Preservica.  We are also looking at methods of managing digital records in your teams. 

Preservica functions alongside other data management systems, including Figshare for research data. Figshare allows researchers to deposit their research outputs and make them available, citable, shareable, and discoverable.  AtoM, our archives management system, contains catalogue records both for archival data stored in Preservica and physical records in the archives; cross-referencing across the two systems is managed via shared reference numbers.

We are currently working on ‘Our COVID-19 story’, on developing digital preservation policies and on identifying further materials across the university to preserve.

We will also be adding more information to this site as we go on.

Our COVID-19 story

 ‘Our COVID-19 story’ is a project aimed at preserving (the primarily digital) material produced at and by SGUL relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The project is part of an international initiative to ensure that digital records relating to the pandemic are captured and preserved.  The project team has had a great response from St George’s to the project and have received a number of suggestions of what we should collect covering everything from communications to staff and students from the Principal to changes in how course content is delivered to research.  The project is on-going, and we welcome contributions and suggestions of further material to include. The pandemic has obviously affected all aspects of life at St George’s and we want to ensure we capture all aspects of St George’s response. 

Currently we are collecting and preserving the following materials (with discussions on-going regarding the transfer of further materials to our digital preservation system):

  • Communications from SGUL, including emails, web pages, FAQs, newsletters, video recordings and social media. These provide evidence of our response to the crisis and our management of it – something that will be both interesting and important to keep for the future. Communications sent out to students, staff, alumni as well as those externally available will tell the story of how St George’s reacted to the pandemic
  • Governance records, including Council minutes. These provide evidence of the conversations and decision-making about the responses and management of the pandemic
  • Research records, recording the range of Covid-19 research St George’s researchers have been involved in throughout the pandemic as well as our researchers’ incredible work in the national and international media. Research data from these studies are also important to collect and preserve for the long term
  • Records relating to teaching and education, showing the changes and challenges brought on by the move to remote learning
  • Photographs of St George’s during the lockdowns

Our digital preservation system Preservica has supported this project by providing us with free storage space to enable us to preserve this material for the future.

Screenshot of coronavirus guidance on the SGUL website with the slogan 'Take Care. Show care'





Also: Digital archive

This term is used very differently within sectors. The library and archiving communities often use it interchangeably with digital preservation.


Computing professionals tend to use digital archiving to mean the process of backup and ongoing maintenance as opposed to strategies for long-term digital preservation


The record is what it purports to be. In the case of digitised or ‘born digital’ records authenticity refers to the trustworthiness of the electronic record and that it is the same as when it was first created, unless the metadata shows that changes have been made

Bit preservation

Bit preservation includes maintaining backup copies, fixity  and virus checking, and refreshing to new storage media.  Bit preservation supports the ensuring the endurance of digital records but is not digital preservation. 



Digital files that were created in digital form; those that were not derived as a surrogate from physical form and not intended to have an analogue equivalent


A unique numerical signature derived from a file. Used to compare copies ensuring authenticity. 



Items created or collected by one particular person or organisation, and maintained as a distinct grouping


The act of browsing the web automatically and methodically to index or download content and other data from the web. The software to do this is often called a web crawler

Designated community

Potential consumers of records who should be able to understand the records.  The designated community can consist of more than one community and may change over time. 

Digital preservation


Digital preservation is the active management of digital content over time to ensure continued access  beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organisational change



The process of creating digital files by scanning, photographing, or otherwise converting analogue materials


A means of overcoming technological obsolescence of hardware and software by developing techniques for imitating obsolete systems on future generations of computers

File format

The file format tells the computer how to display, print, and process, and save the information. It is determined by the program which created the file and the operating system under which it was created and stored.  You can determine the format by the filename extension which contain 3 or 4 letters, e.g. .docx, .mp3


The state of being unchanged; permanence. 

Fixity check

A method for ensuring the integrity of a file and verifying it has not been altered or corrupted. During transfer, an archive may run a fixity check to ensure a transmitted file has not been altered en route. Within the archive, fixity checking is used to ensure that digital files have not been altered or corrupted


The process of preparing and uploading data into a digital preservation system such as Preservica

InterPARES project

International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems


Refers to the life span of a record from creation to disposal or deposit with the archives. The major implications for the lifecycle when managing electronic records, regardless of form or function, is the need actively to manage the record at each stage of its lifecycle recognising the dependencies between each stage and beginning preservation actions as early as feasible.  This requirement has prompted a reassessment of the lifecycle model and the development the continuum lifecycle model to distinguish it from the more traditional and linear flow of the lifecycle.

Lossy / lossless

Lossless compression is a mechanism for reducing file sizes that retains all original data; lossy compression is mechanism for reducing file sizes that typically discards data.


For instance, .tiff is a lossless format, whereas .jpg is a lossy format


Also: Documentation


Data about data. Information about the records and the context they were created in, aiding in the discovery, identification, and management of records.


Specific metadata schemas include Dublin Core (DC)


A means of transferring digital records from one hardware or software generation to the next.  Migration preserves the content of the records but doesn’t always make an exact copy

Preservation actions


A series of managed activities to preserve the integrity and authenticity of digital information despite generational changes in computing technology

Proprietary / non-propriety (open-source)

Proprietary software is owned by a company which restricts the ways in which it can be used (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Adobe Acrobat). Non-proprietary software is usually open source, i.e. its source code is available under an open license: it can be used for free, but also modified and developed.


A proprietary file format is owned and controlled by a company, and may require proprietary software to be read reliably. Microsoft Excel, for instance, uses the proprietary XLS and XLSX formats.



Any recorded information created, received, used of maintained as evidence of or information about the conduct of SGUL activities

Submission package


An Information Package that is delivered by the Producer to the OAIS for use in the construction or update of one or more Archival Information Packages (AIPs) and/or the associated Descriptive Information (OAIS term)


Contact us

If you have questions regarding preserving digital material, are interested in hearing more about the project, or want to talk about depositing your digital records, please contact us at


Bridging the gap: Digital and physical records at St George's

Discover the various digital and physical records held in our archives through our time capsule, and find out the dangers facing particular formats if we don't pay attention to their preservation

Explore St George's digital time capsule
storage carriers audacityscreenshot


Find a profileSearch by A-Z