I cringe every time I hear the phrase 'digitally preserved' being used. Even more so when it is used by people who should know better. Digitization is Not Digital Preservation. Period. It is easy to think that digitizing something will preserve it in some way—particularly if the piece is unique and/or fragile as digitization may allow you to limit handling of the object. What digitization really accomplishes, though, is the creation of yet another object that needs to be stored, cared for, and nurtured in order to be sustained. Digital preservation is an extremely complex problem that still hasn’t come close to being solved. Hundreds of thousands of digital objects—on the Web and off—are every day being rendered unusable as file formats change and hardware and software becomes outdated. A number of organizations around the world (see the Further Reading section) are working on solutions for digital preservation and their progress can easily be followed online. The best time to think about digital preservation is before you start to digitize anything.
Bodley's Librarian, Richard Ovenden, recently wrote a piece for the Financial Times recently that outlines the problem, which is not the libraries don't know how to do digital preservation but that NO ONE does. So the good news is you are not alone. And there is lots of best practice and guidance for how do things that we think will save digital formats for the future. The bad news is that it is expensive. While paper and many other analogue formats benefit from neglect, digital formats need to be actively renewed, refreshed, and migrated to be usable. This means investment in hardware and software infrastructure, but also people.
Further Reading on Digital Preservation
Digital Curation Centre (DCC), providing a (UK) national focus on curation issues.
Digital Preservation Coalition, UK services and portal, including links to Technology Watch reports
LOCKSS: Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe
NDIIPP, the U.S. National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program
PADI, Preserving Access to Digital Information, a comprehensive and current subject gateway to international preservation resources
[Image courtesy of Flickr user AJ Batac]