Caring for Yale Library’s Digital Collections

Digital Preservation Librarians David Cirella (at left) and Grete Graf, and Digital Preservation Manager Euan Cochrane

Managing Complex Computing Dependencies

Digital information relies on the combination of data, software, and hardware to produce a complete information object in a form that a user can access. This combination means that digital information is very fragile because in many cases this information relies on specific and interdependent layers of hardware, operating systems, and software applications.

Over time, storage media, software, and hardware become unusable due to a range of factors, including physical degradation, mechanical failures, and technological obsolescence, posing significant risk to the data stored in these systems in the long term. As a result, preservation of digital information demands continual intervention and active management to protect and provide access to the specificity of digital content across the necessarily rapid replacement cycles of hardware and software.

The di Bonaventura Family Digital Archaeology and Preservation Lab, where older computing devices are maintained for transfering born-digital archives



The Digital Preservation Services unit provides services and support for the preservation of content in digital form, including both “digitized” and “born-digital” materials. The staff are engaged in setting policy and standards for digital preservation. They are also responsible, in collaboration with Library and University information technologists, for maintaining the infrastructure needed to support digital preservation. The campus museums are also taking advantage of the Library’s digital preservation system. A massive migration of their digital content was completed in the summer of 2018.

Special Projects

The general collections of Yale University Library include a large amount of software and data, issued on CD-ROMs and floppy disks. Digital Preservation creates images of these items, which will be ingested for storage in the managed and secure environment of the Digital Preservation system.

Preservation reformatting and digital preservation experts collaborated to rescue data from a large collection of research data from old tape storage. Preserving access to large data sets is a growing concern for the Library and the University.

There are hundreds of CD-ROMS and disks in the Library's circulating collections that cannot be read by newer computers that lack drives for these formats.

This large collection of Yale faculty research data on old tapes poses a unique challenge in access and preservation.

Leading, Innovating and Collaborating

In 2017 the Library’s Digital Preservation team received a $2 million-dollar grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to lead the development of a program of technology and services to support the sharing and use of emulated software. The program expands the capacity of the Emulation-as-a-Service (EaaS) model to a scalable and sustainable infrastructure or EaaSi.

An example of an emulated software environment from the EaaSi emulator sandbox


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