Digital Preservation in Art Museums

Digital preservation may sound like something that is second nature to archives, libraries, and museums these days. However, that’s not always the case. Preserving born-digital content is considered a must with the growing volume of digital records but it takes a lot of time, resources, and money. One article I read, “Better Together: A Holistic Approach to Creating a Digital Preservation Policy in an Art Museum” discusses how art museums lack the workflows when compared to libraries, archives, and other types of museums. Art museums often see digital artwork often but it is becoming more popular. When an art museum takes a digital record into their collection, they may not be prepared.

As the volume of digital art work increases, art museums have to discuss what digital preservation means to their institution. From preserving the file itself to the metadata and copyright restrictions it can be a lot to keep up with. It doesn’t help that most institutions don’t like to share their preservation workflows. In 2014, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) received a grant and chose to create a digital preservation policy that included all of the museum’s collections. The museum contains over 95,000 works of art ranging from 5th century mosaics to contemporary pieces. In order to start their initiative, they had to define digital preservation. They decided on a “combination of policies, strategies and actions to ensure access to and accurate rendering of authenticated reformatted and born digital content over time regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change.”

When BMA got the grant, they decided to use the money to preserve the 5 most used collections that had already been digitized over the years. When beginning, the staff at the BMA reviewed the literature relating to digital preservation and then started to create their plans. Creating policies that fit their institution and piloting and perfecting workflows is the hardest part. I understand the challenge of digital preservation as its something we are trying to figure out in my current job. However, I do agree with the Baltimore Museum of Art’s take on it. Looking at your institution and fitting the program to your needs and budget is a must. Once you have your workflows down, it’ll be easy from there. However, there is something about digital preservation that worries me and that is the future of technology.

Technology has advanced more in the last 60 years than it has the entire time humans have walked the Earth, and that’s scary. While we are preserving photographs as TIFFs today, who is to say that won’t be the preferred method of storage in the future? Archiving paper is different from digital. You archive the physical records once and describe them once, maybe adding a few accruals here and there. Digital is a totally different beast. A good digital preservation plan will try and predict future trends as well as current standards.


O’Flaherty, E. (2018). Digital preservation for libraries, archives, and museums. ARCHIVES AND RECORDS-THE JOURNAL OF THE ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ASSOCIATION, 39(1), 94–97.

Rafferty, E., & Pad, B. (2017). Better Together: A Holistic Approach to Creating a Digital Preservation Policy in an Art Museum. Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 36(1), 149–162.


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