PDF Key to Digital Preservation — But Not Alone

UK organization says agencies must combine PDF/A with a comprehensive records management program and formally established records policies

The Digital Preservation Coalition warns that as new file formats emerge, organizations will need to be continually alert to the changing situation

The UK-based Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) says organizations keen to ensure their data will bPDF/A and continued vigilance as part of the solution.

The not-for-profit organization, whose members include the UK National Archives and the British Library, says organizations must combine PDF/A with a comprehensive records management program and formally established records policies and procedures to ensure their electronic documents will be preserved.

But it also warns as new file formats emerge, organizations will need to be continually alert to the changing situation.

The Coalition's just-released paper Preserving the Data Explosion: Using PDF by Betsy A. Fanning begins: "It is estimated that over 90 percent of all business records are electronic. This transition from paper to electronic documents has led the way for document file formats such as PDF, Portable Document Format, to be introduced. PDF was made popular by the fact that it enabled users to see electronic documents as they did their paper counterparts. With a large amount of information being based in electronic formats, it is critical to be able to preserve or archive this knowledge for future generations.

"Given the wide acceptance of PDF, the development of PDF/Archive for long-term preservation of electronic documents is a logical use of the file format," the paper says. "Through the use of PDF/A, organizations can be sure that their documents will be preserved for the long term."

However, the paper points out that since better file formats may emerge, organizations need to continually review what might meet their needs.

"While PDF/A may be a suitable file format today for long-term preservation of electronic documents, it should be noted that there may be other file formats introduced in the future that may better serve the needs of an organization. Therefore, organizations should be continually reviewing the available file formats to ensure they have selected the best format for their purposes."

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) was established in 2001 to foster joint action to address the urgent challenges of securing the preservation of digital resources in the UK and to work with others internationally to secure our global digital memory and knowledge base.

Fanning notes the PDF/A file format is relatively new with the ISO standard being published only in 2005, and has been more widely accepted for adoption in Europe than in the US.

The report says PDF has become a widely used file format that is integrated into many desktop applications. However it recommends organizations consider the alternative file formats that are available, and understand their content (documents and records), and how they use electronic information before adopting any of the PDF subset file formats.

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