Digital archive

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A digital archive (also known as a data archive ) is generally understood to be an information system whose aim is to store various digital resources and make them available to a defined group of users.

In terms of content and technology, digital archives continue to grow together with digital libraries and digital museums , which is why the term memory institution is now used as a collective term . As in other areas designated by the term digital revolution , the advent of digital technology brings many changes to the world of archives. Several German Archive Days in recent years have therefore dealt intensively with digitization projects and digital archives.

There are special requirements from the point of view of long-term archiving .


Archives , similar to libraries, are used to store media and information carriers, but above all uniquely stored documents (such as archives such as administrative documents) and to preserve them for posterity. Digital archives perform the same task for digital resources. They can often be found on the WWW , but can also use the local intranet, CDs and other carrier media.

Digital archives in the broader sense include all types of digital collections, for example music and video archives. Digital archives in the narrower sense attempt to at least partially map the holdings of a traditional archive. The variant of the virtual archives or archive portals do this in a new way: virtual archives usually do not store their own archive material, but work on the holdings of other archives. This enables, for example, several portfolios to be merged into one. Virtual archives put the digital archive material in a new context, while digital archives copy the original archives in whole or in part.

Digital archives can be designed very differently. They differ, for example, by subject, by archive owner (e.g. state or private), by type / file format of the content (images, text, videos), by access option (public or non-public), by technical structure, by language and by the possibility of interaction for the users (the type of navigation and search function).


In the case of archival material, a distinction is made between the possibly existing analog object (the original archival material), the digital copy and the metadata . The digital copy can differ from the original in terms of the data format: for example, a digitized document is more often treated as an image instead of text. Such images of texts can then usually not be searched for via the text content, but only via the metadata. The metadata describe the analog or digital archive in order to make it traceable, for example by specifying the author, the title and the date of issue, publication or production, but also by keying the content, for example in the form of registers .

So-called “digital born documents” also refer to digital objects that no longer have an analog counterpart, such as electronic files .

technical requirements

The archive material in a digital archive is basically designed for an unlimited storage period. Due to the rapid development of information and communication technology , archives have to find ways to read obsolete data carriers, use obsolete data and map the functionality of old programs. Generally binding standards are a formal option; technical possibilities include emulation of system environments and migration of data. OAIS has established itself as the reference model in recent years . Digital archives are often implemented as a repository .


The many individual archive pages on the WWW are often grouped and organized by archive networks or archive portals. Archive associations are associations of several archives in the form of a common web presence.

One of the most important archive networks is , which connects church archives mainly from Austria, Italy and Bavaria. The advantage of such archive networks for the user is that one can search through the holdings of all member archives in one fell swoop instead of having to laboriously re-enter the search query on each individual archive homepage via links.

Archive portals, on the other hand, only give a small overview of (selected) existing archives and at the same time facilitate access through links. Examples of archive portals are the homepage of the Marburg Archive School and the Archive Portal-D under the umbrella of the German Digital Library .

Special challenges

Obsolescence: Both analog and digital data can become obsolete and no longer readable; This risk is greater with digital archives due to the constant technical development. Digital data must also remain interoperable, which means that the data and software of the digital archive must remain readable and processable even under other technical conditions.

Time and cost intensity: At the turn of the millennium, comprehensive digitization of the holdings of an archive still meant high costs and enormous effort. Ten years later, digitization is far less of a problem. Nevertheless, the hardware and software for the digitization process must of course first be purchased; and the maintenance of digital archives also entails costs, which, however, are difficult to estimate over a longer period of time. In addition, archives are faced with the task of digitizing both new entries and old stock, which represents additional work in the medium term. The time-cost factor is largely offset by many other advantages.

Protection and security of the objects: Paper and microfilms are also not durable forever, and the more often a document is excavated, the faster it ages. Digital copies thus help protect sensitive archive material. In contrast to analog copies, there is no loss of quality with digital copies. Archives are also legally obliged to make backup copies of their holdings. This can of course also be done in digital form. With digital archives, however, the problem of long-term archiving is exacerbated. In addition, the digital data must be additionally protected against unauthorized access and modification (for example by viruses or hackers).

Efficiency: When the holdings of an archive are also accessible digitally via the Internet, research is made easier for users. Travel costs and waiting times for the retrieval of the archive material are eliminated. The archive staff has fewer visitors to look after and can devote more time to the rest of the visitors and the archive material. Dealing with the archive material on both sides (users / visitors and archivists) becomes more efficient (especially through the search and navigation using metadata). Even if the entire inventory of an archive is not digitized, a user can already get an overview of the inventory in the digital archive and plan his visit to the archive in advance.

Space requirement: Compared to conventional archives, digital archives require less space because the information in the digitized data is heavily compressed on the data carriers. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that conventional archives will completely dispense with the analogue originals and thus physically shrink. The space-saving digital copies can also be used for backup copies.

Legal Aspects

Historically, archives are administrative tools. Because archives store and manage large amounts of personal and sensitive data, national and regional archival laws that may exist overlap with many other areas of legislation. An important point here is not only the regulated access to such data, but also protecting it from change. There is currently no internationally standardized legislation on digital archives.

Types and examples

See also


  • Berger, Hannes (2019): Public Archives and State Knowledge. The modernization of German archive law , Tectum, Baden-Baden 2019, ISBN 978-3-8288-4373-8 .
  • Brübach, Nils (2008). "Development of international development standards: balance sheet and perspectives". The archivist 61/1: 6–13.
  • Brübach, Nils (n. D.). OAIS - The "Open Archival Information System": A reference model for organizing and handling the archiving of digital documents. [on-line]. . (November 5, 2010).
  • Feather, John, ed. (2004). Managing Preservation for Libraries and Archives. Hants: Ashgate.
  • Jenks, Stuart and Stephanie Marra , eds. (2001). Internet manual history. Vienna: Böhlau.
  • Keitel, Christian (2010). "Digital archiving at the Baden-Württemberg State Archive". The archivist 63/1: 19–26.
  • Kemper, Joachim (2008). "Digitized archival holdings and archive materials in Bavaria". Leaves for Upper German Name Research 45: 31–41.
  • Kistenich, Johannes (2010). "Use civil status documents digitally". The Archivist 63/4: 456-465.
  • Kuhn, Frieder (1997). Brave new world of data. In: Weber, Hartmut, ed. (1997). Preservation : Challenge and Opportunity. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer.
  • McCrank, Lawrence J. (2002). Historical Information Science: An Emerging Unidiscipline. Information Today.
  • Mutschler, Thomas, Michael Lörzer, Hagen Naumann and Bernhard Post (2009). "Jena church records digital: A project of the Thuringian University and State Library Jena and the Evangelical Lutheran Church District Jena" The Archivist 62/4: 390–397.
  • NESTOR working group, ed. (2008). Paths to the archive: a guide for the transfer of information to the digital long-term archive. Version I. Göttingen. (January 7, 2011).
  • Richarz, Jan (2010). “Standards and norms in everyday life in the archives”. The Archivist 63/4: 42 4–432.
  • Schroeder, Kathrin and Karsten Huth (2009). "The metadata concept of the 'digital archive' of the Federal Archives". The Archivist 62/3: 248-254.
  • Unger, Michael (2010). “ArgeAlp symposium, digital documents and digitization in the archives of the Alpine region”. The Archivist 63/4: 420-422.
  • VSA (Association of Swiss Archivists: Working Group on Norms and Standards) (2008). "Catalog of important archival standards used in Switzerland". Version 1.2 from September 9, 2008.
  • Weber, Hartmut, eds. (1997). Preservation: Challenge and Opportunity. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. In a broader sense, the word 'archive' can designate the physical location or the building as well as what is stored itself.
  2. The importance of the digitization of archival material became particularly clear after the collapse of Cologne archives. In the meantime, a project has started that tries to track down digital copies of the lost archive material.
  3. German UNESCO Commission e. V., "Memory of the World" Initiative, ; UNESCO Charter for the Preservation of Digital Cultural Heritage, 2003: