A huge pet peeve of mine is when people use the terms digitization and digital preservation interchangeably, so I thought I’d explain the differences. If you only remember one thing from this post, it should be that digitization IS NOT digital preservation.
Digitization is the reformatting of analog materials to a digital format. For example, scanning a photograph and saving it as a jpg file is digitization. Scanning a page from a diary and saving it as a pdf is digitization. Digitization does not always occur for the purpose of preservation. Materials are digitized for a variety of reasons, such as to provide access to people in different geographical areas, to provide simultaneous access to the same unique content, to provide access to material that’s too fragile to handle often, or to create a copy for a researcher.
Digital preservation is ensuring the long-term access of digital materials over time, including both analog materials that have been digitized and born-digital materials. Born-digital materials are items that were originally created in a digital format (e.g. Microsoft Word document, email, Photoshop file). For analog materials, digital preservation can only occur after digitization.
Think about computer hardware, software, and file formats that are now obsolete. Can you still open that content? Is it still functional? That’s what digital preservation is about — making sure that you still can, and making sure that all those digital materials you’re creating today are still accessible in 5, 10, 50 years! There are numerous strategies for digital preservation — to name a few, migration, emulation, and refreshing — but no one’s got it all figured out (yet).
It’s important to distinguish between these two concepts because digitization does not encompass born-digital materials, and you’d be leaving out a huge amount of material if digital preservation only concerned analog materials that were digitized. Additionally, digitization is not focused on providing long-term access to digital materials.
Does that make sense?