A 2008 RAND report on "Digital Preservation ; The Uncertain Future of Saving the Past", states that " At a time when digital objects are being generated everywhere and technology is changing at unprecedented speed, developing an archiving strategy for these objects is like chasing a moving train." Now, a few years later, the report's observations retain their force.
Many institutions throughout the world are digitizing traditional analog content to create vast new national and international repositories of texts, images, recordings. While some these institutions address the need to preserve this digital content into the indefinite future, others do not.
Beyond the traditional digital content mentioned above, there is a constantly growing array of "born digital"objects and artifacts. Besides image-based objects, this can include such things as Spreadsheets,Patient records, Meteorological data, Seismological data, Multimedia works, Models and simulations, Geographical Information Systems data, Web content.
Some of these other forms of digital information are much more complex than images and require more complex techniques for long term preservation. To preserve these types of interactive digital objects requires preserving the reactions to user input, that were intended in the original design. Their "functionality may be a crucial part of a digital object's intellectual content." More layers of content preservation are required to be present to allow these digital resources to be reproduced with their functionality, into the future.
So many computer applications that we use become superseded in diminishing time periods. Both hardware and software go out of use and much content becomes inaccessible and unusable. Computer hardware, operating system software, application software and specific content mediated by these components, must all be preserved to allow future generations to reliably study what has come before.
The need is only growing day by day, but as the Rand report points out, "As yet there is not wide concern in the scholarly community about preserving the original behaviour of digital artifacts; the focus is mainly on guaranteeing access to future ‘vernacular’ versions of page-image documents."
Preserving page-image documents is basic to any plan to maintain a record of out cultural and scientific production. Yet those institutions, traditionally charged with keeping this historical record, libraries, museums, government agencies, publishers, must begin turning their attention and resources toward the inherently digital artifacts, so that their contributions are not lost to history.