Sheffield staff share data loss advice on World Digital Preservation Day

Staff and students in Sheffield have been speaking out about the importance of data for World Digital Preservation Day.

It is the second year that the advocacy and outreach day has been marked at the University, at a time when the digital world is at a “crossroads” as it moves forward.

Digital preservation coves a wide range of files, from up-to-the-minute technological files to important historic records.

Chris Loftus works as part of the digital preservation team at The University of Sheffield and sees the day as a key chance to raise awareness.

“World Digital Preservation Day is an advocacy and outreach day. Digital preservation is a big topic that is very wide ranging,” he said.

“It takes into account things like complicated research data universities have to deal with, and also smaller things like personal photograph collections.”

He said the key idea behind digital preservation is ensuring “long-term, meaningful access” to important files and documents of all types.

The day intends to make people think about things they may not have otherwise considered.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions. You need to put the effort in to make sure you’ve still got access to things that are important,” said Loftus.

“When people find they’ve got data loss issues, it’s things like file formats. There are big questions around how you store files and what file formats you use.”

He went on stressed the importance of backing up files, which he says seems obvious but is not as straightforward as just putting something on a different computer.

Loftus also addressed the recent news about Flickr reducing its storage limit, meaning website users now either have to move the photos somewhere else or lose them forever.

“The cheapness and availability of storage is a great positive thing, but the more storage people have the less time they put into knowing what is in that storage.”

The pace of change of file formats has been identified by data experts as something which people need to keep an eye on with their photos, videos, and music.

Just how fast the digital world is changing has been witnessed first-hand by Loftus and other staff who work in data at the University.

“We’re getting to the point where we now want to preserve emails,” he said. “Current scientists’ emails are the same as old scientists’ letters.

“It’s harder to convince people to let us access their emails. That sort of attitude will change in the coming years but we’re at a bit of a strange crossroads.”