Digital preservation encompasses the theory and practice ensuring purposeful future use of digital resources. But how can one tell whether it has been effective or not? The evaluation of preservation efficacy has two dimensions: trustworthiness of managerial programs and systems; and successful use of managed resources. While the former has received extensive attention, the latter has been little investigated. This stems from an insufficiently broad conceptualization of the preservation enterprise, which should be viewed expansively as facilitating meaningful human communication across time and concomitant cultural distance. Communicological analysis leads to a semiotic-phenomenological model for preservation-enabled communication cognizant of the elusive nature of use, which is inherently contingent with respect to time, place, person, and purpose. Preservation success is positioned as an individual, rather than universal value, with a benchmark evaluation of situational verisimilitude, rather than absolute fidelity to an illusory canonical state and information experience. The proposed evaluative approach provides new conceptual clarity to preservation theory and practice, a more rigorous basis for illuminating the limits of preservation efficacy, and a more nuanced means of stating, measuring, and evaluating preservation intentions, expectations, and outcomes.
Digital information is indispensable to contemporary commerce, culture, science, and education. No future understanding of a prior time in the digital age is possible without proactive preservation of our digital heritage. But how can one know whether or not that preservation has been effective? There are two primary assessments of digital preservation efficacy: trustworthiness of managerial systems and programs, and successful use of preserved resources. The first has received extensive treatment in the literature, but the second has been little investigated. This stems from a too narrow conceptualization of the preservation domain as synonymous with data management. Given that the goal of that management is to facilitate future use, and that use is inherently contingent with respect to time, place, person, and purpose, digital preservation should be seen more broadly as facilitating human communication across time. My research asks what measures can meaningful evaluate the efficacy of such communicative acts. It proposes a communicological theory in which success is evaluated with regard to situational verisimilitude. Evaluation metrics are derived from a semiotic-phenomenological model of preservation-enabled communication and the affordances supported by preserved digital resources. This work contributes new conceptual clarity to the theory and practice of digital preservation, a more rigorous basis for demarcating the limits of preservation efficacy, and a more nuanced means of stating, measuring, and evaluating intentions, expectations, and outcomes.