Preservation and Access for Born-digital Electronic Records: The Case for an Institutional Digital Content Format Registry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library has taken custody of a growing number of collections of “born-digital” records, largely through the University Archives. These collections comprise a panoply of digital content formats, ranging from those in common use to obscure varieties from the early days of personal computing. As such, they pose a challenge to digital preservation and access. Knowing what software to use to open files in formats that have fallen out of use is often difficult, let alone installing obsolete software on contemporary operating systems. At the same time, the sheer bulk of collections, as well as an accelerating rate of born-digital accessions from faculty and campus offices, makes it difficult to assess these files at the time of acquisition. These challenges suggest the need for preservation policies on digital formats in collections of electronic records, as well as for firsthand knowledge of the software required to facilitate curator control over and patron access to these collections. This article presents an overview of an evolving approach taken by archivists and librarians at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to build the policies, technical knowledge, and systems for an effective preservation and access program for electronic records. Their implementation of a local digital content format registry, while young, suggests that archivists and digital preservationists would benefit from further development of tools and practices focused on born-digital formats, and the thoughtful integration of institutional knowledge with international format registries.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397–428
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Archivist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Appraisal
  • Born-digital
  • Digital archiving
  • Digital preservation
  • File formats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Preservation and Access for Born-digital Electronic Records: The Case for an Institutional Digital Content Format Registry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this