Module C2: Access & Backing Up Your Work

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This module addresses the crucial relationship between providing access to your work and its sustainability. The access section addresses the tools and techniques that make your project usable and findable. The section on backing up your work identifies the storage and backup activities required to protect and maintain access to your digital files and information over time.


This section is an adaptation of the Access section of the NDSA Levels of Preservation. Access is a field added more recently to the original five NDSA levels (for more on this addition, see Shira Peltzman’s blog post on The Signal). While it has not necessarily been adopted by all users of the original guidelines, we feel that it is an utterly essential element to address here, especially for user-facing projects. This table deals with the tools that are available to make your project discoverable and accessible to users–from taking the time to identify designated communities all the way through to proactively providing access to obsolete or difficult-to-access parts of your project.

The activities in Level 2 contain suggestions for working with descriptive metadata, a concept that you will also address in further depth in Module C3. You may also note that, by completing Module A3 of the STSR, you have already accomplished a great deal of the work needed to attain a Level 1 sustainability practice in this area.

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
 Access Determine designated communities and significant properties

Create and make available descriptive metadata, such as title, abstract, keywords, or other information that is useful for discovery

Ensure that designated communities can access significant properties of a project

Have publicly available documentation, user guides, or other materials that make your work legible to users

Have a publicly available access and use policy Provide access to the parts of the project that have become obsolete or difficult to access via a native environment and/or emulation

Backing Up Your Work

This area, adapted from the original “Storage & Geographic Location,” identifies the storage and backup activities required for project team members to maintain intellectual and physical access to digital files and information. Level 1 begins with the basic principle of maintaining more than one copy of your information and keeping those copies in separate storage locations. Maintaining multiple copies in multiple geographic locations is a relatively standard practice for disaster planning in archives and other custodial settings. We advocate this approach for actively developing projects as well, as human factors, such as accidental deletion or loss, pose a significant preservation threat. With only one copy in one location, these risks are exacerbated. Creating and updating distributed copies will dramatically decrease the risk of loss, whether that loss is caused by a spilled cup of coffee or a natural disaster at a larger scale. For more on this approach to file-level sustainability, you may wish to consult the LOCKSS: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe project.

Paying attention to your work in this area is particularly important if your files are stored on lots of heterogeneous media (such as floppy disks, CDs, and flash drives). In this case, it is important to consider consolidating your files as much as possible within a single primary storage system that can then be easily duplicated for the purposes mentioned above. For more explanation of why this is good practice, see Ricky Erway’s OCLC publication, “You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media.

As noted in Level 1 below, don’t forget to include your reliable sites of project documentation in your plans!

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Backing Up Your Work Document your reliable sites of project documentation including a description of their contents

Maintain two complete copies, stored separately

Reduce to a minimum data stored on heterogeneous types of media (hard drives, flash drives, etc.)

Keep an inventory of storage media and systems used and their technical requirements

Maintain three complete copies, with at least one copy in a different geographic location

Transfer all data from heterogeneous media (hard drives, flash drives, etc.) to a central storage system

Of the three copies, keep at least one in a geographic location with a different disaster threat

Routinely monitor your storage systems and media for obsolescence

Keep three copies in separate geographic locations, each with different disaster threats

Have a comprehensive plan in place to keep files and metadata on currently accessible media or systems

Additional Resources

Barrera-Gomez, Julianna & Ricky Erway. Walk This Way: Detailed Steps for Transferring Born-Digital Content from Media You Can Read In-House. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC, 2013.

“LOCKSS: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe.” Stanford University. Accessed September 23, 2022.

Owens, Trevor. “Managing Copies and Formats.” In The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, 70-84. OSF Preprint. Accessed September 23, 2022.

Peltzman, Shira. “Expanding NDSA Levels of Preservation.” Library of Congress The Signal Blog. Accessed September 23, 2022.

Rosenthal, David. “Enhancing the LOCKSS Digital Preservation Technology.” D-Lib Magazine 21 (September 2015).

(Module last updated September 2022)

Previous Module: Module C1: Adapting the NDSA Levels of Preservation Next Module: Module C3: File Formats & Metadata
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