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What is a Digital Media Archive?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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A digital media archive is an archive which maintains digital media such as music, digital art installations, archives of websites, and so forth. There are a number of digital media archives found all over the world, with many specializing in materials of specific interest, such as music from particular cultures or Internet commentary on major historical events. Many national archives also maintain a digital media archive to ensure that works of digital art created by their citizens or in their nation are preserved.

Digital media can be surprisingly impermanent. A website may be taken down, a compact disc can be corrupted, a hard drive can be destroyed. Digital media archives aim to create a permanent, stable record so that materials of historic or cultural interest can be maintained for the benefit of future generations. Such an archive can be as small as a collection maintained in someone's office, or as large as a collection in a facility like the Library of Congress.

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Archiving digital media successfully is actually rather challenging. Some methods of data storage have proved to be impermanent, and in some cases collections in a digital media archive have actually been lost because storage platforms have become corrupted, making the data impossible to access. Redundancy is common in a digital media archive, to ensure that if damage does occur, digital media may survive in another form. For example, if digital media is stored on hard drives in the basement of a facility, it will also be backed up to an offsite location.

Another important aspect of a digital media archive can be cleaning up and restoring old data. If data has become corrupted, it may be possible to repair and restore it so that it can be maintained in the archive. The skills acquired by people who work to preserve digital media can also be useful in forensic science, when law enforcement may ask for assistance with the reconstruction of the contents of hard drives or the recovery of data which might seem inaccessible at first glance.

Archival conditions are maintained in the facility to protect the materials stored inside. Custodians of the archive periodically review the collection in a digital media archive to confirm that all of the data in the facility is still accessible, and to look for signs of problems which could result in data damage. For example, a curator may note that compact discs used as a form of permanent storage are warping, which could compromise the data stored on the discs, necessitating a data transfer to a more permanent medium.

Access to a digital media archive is often restricted, to ensure that information is not damaged or stolen. People who wish to visit to conduct research can file an application with a curator, who can make arrangements for a visit.

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