Regardless of their size, location, or the communities they serve, all heritage organizations are involved in curating digital content, whether that content is born-digital or reformatted from physical materials. There are a range of risks involved in managing this content, including technical malfunctions, media obsolescence, and organizational failuresjust to name a few. In light of such threats, digital preservation to enable the discovery, access, and use of content by designated user communities over time is critical. But where are organizations turning to ensure the preservation of their digital objects?

Often, they are working with digital preservation and curation systems (DPCS). In August 2020, with funding from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS), Ithaka S+R launched an extensive research project to examine and assess the sustainability of these systems and the extent to which heritage organizations can depend on them to maintain their digital objects and ensure their authenticity, accuracy, and usability over time. Today we are sharing our findings from a broad examination of the DPCS landscape, drawn in part from deep dives into a number of third-party preservation platforms. 

As we distinguish in the report, our research focused on the types of systems that cultural heritage organizations implement to support the preservation of their digit content, including APTrust, Archivematica, Arkivum, Islandora, LIBNOVA, MetaArchive, Samvera, and Preservica. Repositories such as CLOCKSS, Internet Archive, HathiTrust, and Portico were out of this study’s scope.

Key findings from our study of both commercial vendors and not-for-profit initiatives include:

Heritage organizations select preservation systems within the context of marketplace competition.

They take into consideration factors including shared values, principles, trust, and a service provider’s ability to support local implementation.  

It is not feasible to outsource digital preservation entirely to an external  system provider.

Digital preservation is a distributed and iterative activity that requires in-house expertise, adequate staffing, and access to different technologies and systems.

Limited capital and comparatively ponderous governance structures can leave the not-for-profit solutions at risk.

This may slow down their ability to innovate and keep up with the needs of heritage organizations. 

A growing reliance on commercial vendors may pose risks to heritage organizations.

Due to a lack of financial and technical transparency, it is difficult to holistically assess the  sustainability of these systems.   

Very little digital preservation activity is actually taking place.

There appear to be thousands of heritage organizations that are undertaking little to no digital preservation activity. 

The report aims not only to further increase our understanding of sustainability principles but also to help the sector refine and consider how to best implement them. To this end, we are convening a series of forums to discuss the findings with members of the relevant digital preservation and curation systems alongside higher education community, funders, and policy makers, and we invite you to register for one of the following GoTo Webinar sessions: 

Session 1: Monday, August 1, 2:00-3:00 pm (ET)

Session 2: Thursday, August 4, 9:00-10:00 am (ET)

Session 3: Tuesday, August 16, 1:00-2:00 pm (ET)

We will share the feedback we gather through these stakeholder convenings later this year. If you are unable to join one of the forums, we invite you to provide your feedback in the comments here or via email to