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Comprehensive Digital Preservation Services (CDPS): Levels of Preservation Commitment

Developed by: Nancy McGovern, Director, Digital Preservation with Kari R. Smith, Institute Archivist; updated July 2020 (first draft, November 2017)


Assigning levels of commitment to types of information allows digital preservation programs to maximize resources by right-sizing the combination of services and actions needed. Each level has requirements to meet to ensure long-term preservation of the content. Factors like uniqueness, purpose, reproducibility, and investment inform the definition of the levels.

Digital Content Examples by Level of Preservation Commitment

  • Level 1: open access articles, locally-stored licensed content, etc.
  • Level 2: digitized content with only IP Restrictions (not confidential), large video files, etc.
  • Level 3: open Institute records, special collections content that may have IP restrictions, etc.
  • Level 4: controlled Institute records, confidential data, and other content that requires special restrictions
  • Level 5: regulated Institute records (high-risk content dictated by policy or law)

Figure 1. Characteristics of preservation actions and services by level of preservation commitment

Note: shading in Figure 1 indicates increased requirements to meet


Preservation Services/Actions Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5
Preservation Metadata Minimal/None Minimal Full Full Full
Preservation Formats Maybe Maybe Yes Yes Yes
Preservation Copies (multiple locations) B + 1X + Offline B + 1-2X + Offline B + >=4X + Offline A+B + >=4X + Offline A+B + >=4X + Offline
Preservation Approach Bit Bit Full Full Full
Open/Closed Open/Limited  Open/Limited  Open/Limited Closed Closed
Confidential No No No Yes Yes
Rare/Unique No No Yes Yes Yes
Independence Low Low High High High
Preservation Action Level Low Low Medium High High
Born Digital (BD)/Digitized Both/Often PDF More Digitized More BD More BD  More BD
Regulated No No No No Yes

Notes about Service/Actions in Figure 1

  • Preservation Metadata: minimal to full (more and better quality) preservation metadata (see PREMIS)
  • Preservation Formats: Levels 3 – 5 must be able to create preservation formats. Levels 1 & 2 not required.
  • Copies: A = 1 copy in Location A, B = 1 copy in Location B, X = number of external copies, 1 offline safekept copy
  • Preservation Approach: full means ongoing access to content; bit means retaining a copy of original bitstream.
  • Independence: copies function independently. Different locations, Different environments (e.g. operating systems).
  • Preservation Action Level: Frequency of fixity checking, updates to preservation objects (metadata, formats).
  • Level 2: More of the content will be digitized. If content is digitized it requires 2 copies, one external.
  • Level 3: This content is open so has more possible options for preservation including external service providers.
  • Level 4 & 5: This content requires the highest and most frequent level of ongoing preservation actions.

Figure 2. Relative quantity of digital content per level of preservation commitment

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