storage ≠ preservation
If you have stored your data somewhere, you have not necessarily preserved your data. Preservation focuses on making sure that your data will be available and usable in the long term. This is important for you, looking back on your previous research, and also for others as collaborators or other researchers may want to see your data.
Each year, additional funders and publishers implement data sharing mandates. Good preservation practices are increasingly important!
Does your computer have a CD drive? When was the last time you used a VHS player? What if all your data was stored on floppy disks?
Preservation helps protect you from hardware obsolescence. You never want to find yourself in a situation where all of your data is saved on unsupported hardware! Always migrate to new hardware formats so that your data will be available long term. If you are storing your data on proprietary or specific hardware (e.g., storage hardware associated with a particular piece of lab equipment), migrate to a more universal format.
You should also save your data using current, open file formats. If you use proprietary software in a lab, there may be no way for others to access your data if the company stops producing that software. If you use homegrown software you’ve created to collect data, your data may become impossible to access if you do not update your own tool for new operating systems and hardware. In addition to keeping your data accessible, moving data to open formats will also protect you from going back to old data and opening it only to find that it is unreadable.
*Note: There is a distinction between how you collect data and how you store, preserve, and share it. You may need to collect data in one way using specific hardware or software, but you should always have a plan for how you will transform it to open and/or accessible formats.
Preservation formats can be opened and viewed on any operating system using any kind of software. Some examples are:
Encryption is useful for keeping your data safe when transferring it, but encrypting data can also make it difficult to access later on if you haven’t kept good documentation on the encryption key or password.
When you compress data, you risk damaging your data. Each compression and decompression can alter the quality and integrity of the data. Always keep an original dataset and only compress or encrypt copies of that dataset.
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