Digital Preservation and the Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic Project

Happy World Digital Preservation Day!

“Organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and supported by digital preservation networks across the globe, World Digital Preservation Day is open to participation from anyone interested in securing our digital legacy” (DPC). Each year, we celebrate World Digital Preservation day on the first Thursday of November. This year, following the “Digits for Good” theme, we think about the ways in which digital preservation can have a lasting, positive impact.  For a brief primer on digital preservation, see our blog post, Preserving Your Digital Archives.

Here at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and Archives, we are using the principles of digital preservation to support the Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic Project. We welcome new journal submissions documenting your COVID-19 experience, so please consider volunteering!

COVID-19 Journals and file formats

A journal can come in many different forms; we are accepting photographs, video, and audio, in addition to both handwritten and born-digital text. If you do choose to volunteer for the journal project, the submission form will walk you through the process of making your final contribution, including a question about the format of your submission.

The material format checklist question from the journal submission form.

You’ll notice from the form that we list specific file formats we would prefer. That’s because even before we started receiving submissions, we started thinking ahead. To assist us in preserving these files for the future, we knew it would be best to restrict the acceptable file formats for entries:

  1. To ensure that we weren’t getting anything that was going to be really difficult for us to either preserve or even potentially access (for example, proprietary formats require specific software). 
  2. To limit the amount of work required in the future to maintain the files (by limiting the number of types of files to consider). 

Standard, widely adopted file formats are best for long-term preservation. If you use a file format that is not very popular, there is a greater risk that it will be abandoned by the people who are maintaining it. This applies whether the maintainers are a company (for a proprietary format) or a user community (for an open source format). Popular file types also tend to have more documentation and resources available for consultation in case of future issues.

Preferred file formats

For this project, we balanced the need for long-term preservation with the need to avoid being overly challenging for volunteers to submit. We never wanted the request that we made for a file format to deter someone from submitting.

Handwritten text

We are happy to receive handwritten text or art. However, if your submission is typed, we would prefer it in a born-digital format.


(Highest resolution available; TFF or JPEG2K preferred)

TIFF has been the standard and is both robust and popular, so we hope this is easy for most volunteers to provide using common software. However, JPEG2K is open source and is gaining in popularity as a digital preservation format.


(AVI, MOV, QT, or motion JPEG2K format preferred)

We offered more options for video because depending on how that video was recorded, it might be more of a challenge for submitters to provide a different file format. Motion JPEG2K would be nice to have, but as this is a relatively new format and not yet as common, we aren’t requiring it.


(WAV format preferred)

WAV is the long-time preservation standard for uncompressed audio and is widely adopted.

Text in a born-digital format

(.pdf, .docx, etc; PDF preferred)

PDF is our true preference, although .docx is widely available and listed for convenience. PDF embeds things like graphics and other elements directly into the document, making it highly suitable for long-term preservation. It is also very widely adopted, despite being a proprietary format.

Looking ahead: Lifecycle of a journal submission

For this project, we gave volunteers the option of keeping their submission closed, or private, for up to 50 years. That’s a really long time for a born-digital file! We don’t have anything currently that has been preserved digitally for 50 years. In spite of our best efforts, it’s hard to predict what the future will hold for these files. In this context, it’s more important than ever that we select file formats that are suitable for long term preservation, migrate them to new formats as necessary, and continue to stay informed about and follow digital preservation best practices. With good management, we plan for these submissions to be accessible and in good condition for the next 50 years, at which point we can make them accessible to the public.


When we developed our formatting guidelines for this project, we relied on the many excellent resources available for learning about preservation-appropriate file formats, including but not limited to those listed below. We highly recommend these sources if you’d like to learn more about digital preservation and file formats. 

Have you thought about your personal digital files lately? If not, today is a great day to plan for the future!

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