Author: Barbara Sierman
Originally posted on:


Recently a very interesting report was published in the series of DPC Technology Watch Reports  Digital Forensics and Preservation, by Jeremy Leighton John, from the British Library. I knew the phrase “digital forensics” and its potentials for digital preservation, especially in the archival community. This report shows clearly, with practical examples, what the digital preservationists can learn from the digital forensics. One could think that, as this is often related to personal archives, it might not be of interest for organizations that don’t have personal archives in their collections. But this reports shows that there is much ground in common to raise the interest.

The digital forensics process had some starting points that are very similar to what in the digital preservation community is referred to as “authenticity” and “the original”.

  1.  Acquire the evidence without altering or damaging the original,
  2. Establish and demonstrate that the examined evidence is the same as that which was originally obtained and
  3. Analyse the evidence in an accountable and repeatable fashion (p14).

The fact that the forensic practices has narrow links with legal authorities forces them to act towards criteria that are not always present in the environments of cultural heritage organisations. This might make the tools and approaches that are used in digital forensics more strict and reliable.


As noted in the report (p.17) a distinction between digital forensics and digital preservation is that the latter is aiming to have the material being accessible over time and by many different users, while digital forensics focus often on one specific goal: the court case. Of course this influences  the methodology used in digital forensics, in this report referred to as the “lifecycle”, but the similarities in approaches between digital preservation and digital forensics are striking (p. 21). Especially related to steps that prepare the material before “archival storage”, so the ingest and pre-ingest steps. As digital forensics is often confronted with handhelds, smartphones and tablets etc. –  a relatively new category for libraries – , the methods and insights they have developed could be of tremendous help for libraries, especially those with personal collections.

The benefit of this report is the practical line of approach, with references and descriptions to (open source) tools that are used in the digital forensics community. A wide range of examples that underpin the case for digital forensics are described, and I experienced a frequent occurrence of “aha Erlebnis”. Recognition of similar challenges and areas of interest: cloud computing, large scale, emulation, privacy, the need of test environments with reliable corpora (for libraries always difficult because of copyright) etc.  The report summarizes a long list of conclusions (one of them the “inertia” of libraries and archives to preserve personal archives, but maybe we can extend that to the hesitation to preserve offline digital material in general) and finishes with a set of Recommended Actions, of which I conclude as the generic topic: collaboration.

Collaboration will be the most beneficial when parties involved are aware of their needs and what they want to achieve. I think that although we talked a lot of digital preservation, and much is yet not clear, we have a set of starting points that will support us in collaboration activities. The OAIS model still offers a very clear and understandable set of coherent concepts. For those that need a more practical explanation the series of audit materials like DSA , DIN,  and RAC  can support them.  In a way digital preservation has grown up and is able to look around in other, less obviously adjacent disciplines. The people interested in emulation learned a lot of the open source community that rescued games (EU project  KEEP – website no longer available) . Data visualisation, as was mentioned in a blog at The Signal , could help us identifying patterns in collections and perhaps identify risks, if applied in a clever way. Human Computer Interaction (HCI)  science was mentioned by Luciana Duranti to be involved in her research into Records in the Cloud.

Sometimes people are wondering where all investments in digital preservation (research) have brought us so far. There seems to be no end to the challenges with the rapid technology changes.  But I like the view that seems to emerge that there are rich opportunities to collaborate between (established) disciplines. Peeking over the wall  around your own garden into the neighbours courtyard can offer some interesting views. Picking some of the seeds could make your border a stunning one!