Module C1: Adapting the NDSA Levels of Preservation

Module Status: Drafting in Progress | Ready for Testing | Tested

The NDSA Levels of Preservation

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) is a consortium of 165 academic, government, nonprofit, and other organizations committed to preserving and sustaining digital information for long-term access. They provide educational resources and information about digital preservation, which you may find useful as you begin or continue the work of sustaining your digital project, especially if your project has no current plans for eventual retirement.

Developed by the NDSA in 2012, the “Levels of Preservation” are a set of recommendations for enhancing or expanding digital preservation activities within six primary areas of focus: Storage & Geographic Location; File Fixity & Data Integrity; Metadata; File Formats; Information Security; and Access.

We have chosen to work with the NDSA Levels for the Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap because they adhere to the highest levels of professionalism and also embody the flexible, customizable spirit of our project in their framing of digital preservation as a process of sustainability. While this framework, like many other available digital preservation models, is designed with archivists or other information professionals as its imagined audience, it outlines concrete steps toward digital sustainability that are, in our estimation, applicable and useful to not only archivists, but a wide range of digital project managers. However, because they were originally tailored for professional stewards and the needs that come with their particular custodial responsibilities, we offer here an adaptation of the NDSA levels focused on the needs of a community of originators, makers, managers, and creators.

The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap Adaptation

Since the users of the Roadmap are, in the main, the very same teams responsible for project creation and ongoing maintenance, we have adapted the six areas used in the NDSA’s “Levels of Preservation” framework as follows:

  • Access
  • Backing Up Your Work
  • File Formats
  • Metadata
  • Permissions
  • Data Integrity

We have taken the concepts distributed across the original NDSA Levels and have re-grouped and un-jargoned a few of them, but have made every effort to maintain the integrity and professionalism of the ideas contained within the overall project. By working through these adapted levels, users from outside of the information professions will be presented with an introduction to all of the preservation actions recommended by the NDSA, even if they have no previous experience with or knowledge of digital preservation.

In this way, we hope that our adaptation may also serve as an introduction to the important work done by the NDSA, and as a bridge between digital project managers from various fields and librarians or archivists with professional experience in digital preservation. For those project managers who wish to preserve their work for the extreme long term, we heartily encourage both the use of the original NDSA Levels of Preservation and also consultation and collaboration with professional archivists and data stewards.

Moving through Section C

In the modules that follow, you will be introduced to a series of specific actions that you can take to sustain your digital projects. They are organized as levels, from 1-4. Moving up through each of the levels requires a higher level of commitment from your team at each stage. Please note! Reaching Level 4 sustainability practices is not the goal. Your work here is to balance what your project needs with the resources (both in terms of technology and staff) that you have.

Moreover, not every project has the same sustainability priorities, as discussed in Module A2. This work is in no way a race to perfection. Indeed, it is absolutely OK for your group to decide that your sustainability goals for some of these areas is actually “Level 0,” meaning that the team will not engage with this particular area of sustainability activity. The point is for this decision to be made mindfully. Knowing what is possible is crucial, but so also is knowing what you are proactively choosing to do with the resources you have.

When assessing which tasks and techniques are right for your project, it will be important to consider the work you have done in Sections A & B. Thinking back specifically to Module A4: What are the project’s sustainability priorities?, you will now be guided through the practical steps that you can take to sustain those parts of your project which you identified as significant.

As you proceed through the following C modules, we recommend printing out the module exercise worksheets found at the top of each webpage for the purposes of tracking your status and taking notes as you work through each of the levels that follow. The module exercises ask you to identify your current and ideal levels in each sustainability area, as well as the resources that will be required for you to move from the former to the latter. These worksheets provide a place for your project team to articulate and evaluate project sustainability goals and progress, and as such, become a valuable form of project documentation.

By the time you reach Module C5, you will be ready to create a sustainability action plan in the form of a spreadsheet that documents not only the sustainability levels you wish to achieve in each area, but also the technological actions you will need to take in order to effectively support that decision.

Additional Resources

Kilbride, William. “Saving the Bits: Digital Humanities Forever?” In A New Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, 408-419. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael. “Best Practices for Conservation of Media Art.” GitHub Repository, User: antimodular, Accessed September 23, 2022.

National Digital Stewardship Alliance. “Digital Preservation in a Box.” Digital Library Federation Wiki. Accessed September 23, 2022.

National Digital Stewardship Alliance. “2019 Levels of Digital Preservation.” OSF Home. Accessed September 23, 2022.

National Digital Stewardship Alliance. “Digital Curation Decision Guide.” OSF Home. Accessed September 23, 2022.

(Module last updated September 2022)

Next Module: Module C2: Access & Backing Up Your Work
Back to Section C Overview