Preservation ensures access to digital content over time (see ALA definition for digital preservation). CESSDA archives provide access to social science data and ensure the usability of the data during its life cycle.
Good data management from the beginning of the data life cycle reduces the preservation costs. Repairing records with low quality metadata is much more expensive than creating metadata in the pre-archiving phase. The costs of keeping research data safe are explored further in the Report on the 2008 Annual Conference of the Alliance for Permanent Access.
Most CESSDA archives have implemented a preservation strategy based on open and standardised file formats, data migration and media refreshment. Preservation decisions are usually made within the context of the overall collections development policy of the archive, balancing the constraints of cost, scholarly and historical value, and user accessibility.
In some archives, a strategy has been adopted to store data on at least two and often three different storage media, which are reviewed regularly and data are copied onto new media when appropriate. In most, all deposited data and documentation files are retained in their original formats. Files are also converted to the appropriate archival format for the specified data type. Alongside these, the archive usually preserves files in a variety of dissemination formats and migrates them accordingly. Preferred formats are those based on stable, non-proprietary standards.
The end result of these preservation processes in CESSDA archives, whatever the differences in detail, are that they ensure the following:
- The data collections are effectively preserved for future use by converting them to several standardised formats and retaining multiple copies on different storage media.
- The format of materials is changed as necessary to preserve access to their intellectual content, reducing the risk of losing access to them over time.