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Digital Preservation: Access

This guide is an introduction to fundamental concepts of digital preservation.

Access to digital collections

Collections are made to be used!

Access is a major component of digital preservation. The main purpose of protecting digital assets is to ensure that they are available to the user communities that value them and will want to engage with them. If users cannot locate or access the digital objects they are interested in, the potential impact of these resources and collections is ultimately diminished.

Accessibility involves much more than just placing material online. To enhance access, developers of digital collections need to make it easier for users to navigate through large amounts of material and find the information resources that are most relevant to them. Below, we discuss several elements that are important in order to achieve this.


The way a collection is organized has a lot to do with how easy it is to browse through it and find specific resources. There are different ways to organize collections depending on their types. For example, library collections traditionally follow thematic organization schemes, such as the Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress Classification. On the other hand, archives traditionally use the concepts of provenance and original order to organize their resources.

The essential point is that organization must follow a system that makes sense and that is discernible to users. If an effective organization system is not established and followed, resources can be harder to locate or even be lost.


In other sections of this guide, we discuss the importance of metadata, which is often succinctly defined as "information about information". Although there are various kinds of metadata, here we focus on descriptive metadata, which describes the content of an information source. When a researcher conducts a search on an online platform, the results are largely based on the metadata that has been assigned to resources. If good metadata was assigned, the search results will be more accurate and relevant. In this way, descriptive metadata helps users access the resources that are most aligned with their specific needs.

More Product, Less Process (MPLP)

MPLP is a mindset that prioritizes providing users access to archival collections as quickly as possible. This way of thinking opposes the idea of delaying access until collections are described at the most granular level, which may take a long time. MPLP talks about cutting down on excessive processing and instead focusing on attaining a "Golden Minimum" which will satisfy the basic needs of users engaging with archival materials. 


The searchability of collections is essential for a positive user experience. Having a user interface that allows researchers to apply different search strategies leads to more successful results. Some functions that improve searchability are field searching, filters, and the possibility of carrying out boolean search queries.

Additionally, collection curators can develop finding aids to help out researchers. Finding aids give users an overview of a collection's contents along with contextual information. They can also guide the user to specific items contained within the collection.    


Digital objects should be available to users in adequate formats. For collections that are available to the public, formats that are widely used and non-proprietary work best. For example, for text documents, an appropriate format is pdf. This is a widely compatible format that most users will be familiar with. For images, formats such as jpeg and png work well for access copies. If appropriate formats are not used, users may be unable to access the digital objects in a collection.

User interface

User interfaces that are intuitive and easy to navigate enhance access by making it easier for users to locate what they need. Conversely, interfaces that are poorly organized or hard to understand can cause frustration, dissuading users from engaging with them. It is important that interfaces be designed in a way that leads to a good user experience. The way that information is presented and organized is very important, as well as the quality of the interface's search functionalities and the options it offers to render content.

Different modes of access to digital material

Below are links to various collections of digital content. These online resources employ a variety of different models to provide access to their material.

The real face of White Australia

This project documents discriminatory laws and policies applied by Australia's government against non-White immigrants and Indigenous Australians. The project incorporates a "wall of faces". Users can click on a face and access official records created for that person as part of the White Australia government policy.

Rhizome ArtBase

This online archive preserves and provides access to born-digital artwork. The landing page showcases some of the pieces and allows site visitors to access them directly. Users can also browse works by year or artist.

Archivo Digital Comunitario de Culebra

This is an online community archive that provides access to material related to the history of the island municipality of Culebra and its people. The archive, which utilizes the Omeka platform, includes various different types of media, including text documents, images, and video.

Documenting Ferguson

This repository, maintained by Washington University in St. Louis, preserves and provides access to digital media generated around the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Center for Brooklyn History, Oral History Collections

This resource provides access to over 1,200 oral history interviews covering the diverse life experiences of twentieth-century and twenty-first-century Brooklyn residents. The digital tool Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) is used to enhance access to the oral history material. OHMS allows interviews to be divided into several segments according to topic. Descriptive metadata can be assigned to the whole interview and to each segment. This helps researchers identify and access the specific interview segments that are most relevant to their study, making their research process more efficient.