Archiving and preserving data involves a series of managed activities to ensure continued access. Here you will find guidance on how to preserve and maintain data in a secure environment so that it remains accessible, understandable and usable in the long term, as well as information on what kind of data must be archived and preserved according to Swedish law.
Why archive and preserve data
The main reason for archiving and preserving data is to ensure access to it – now and in the future. In Sweden, it is mainly the Archives Act (SFS 1990:782) that must be followed when archiving and preserving data. It stipulates that – as a general rule – all material produced as a result of research activities must be archived and preserved to ensure the right of access to public records, cultural heritage and research needs.
Compliance with the Freedom of the Press Act (SFS 1949:105) and the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (SFS 2009:400), as well as an increasing number of journal and funder guidelines, also involves data preservation (although as a consequence of compliance rather than a direct requirement).
In addition, archiving and preserving data appropriately increases credibility, allows for reproducibility and validation, and is an important component of making data FAIR.
What data to archive and preserve
Archiving and preserving data means that you need to consider carefully which parts of your research data that need to be kept and which don't. The process of selecting which data to keep and which to discard is called data appraisal. At SLU, data appraisal must be done in accordance with the regulations devised by the Swedish National Archives (as described in RA-FS 1991:1 and RA-MS 2013:7)
How to preserve data
When preparing data for preservation, you need to ensure that it is kept safe and that it can be accessed, read and understood in the future. Active steps to preserve data include good file management, adequate documentation, data security and protection, and storage.
Data preservation and file management
An important aspect of data archiving and preservation is file management (i.e. folder structure, file and folder naming conventions, file versioning and choice of file format), particularly the choice of file format. Digital file formats tend to become obsolete over time, meaning that while the bits in a file may still be intact, the information in the file cannot be accessed and used. Choosing file formats that follow open standards with publicly available specifications, are non-proprietary, free of encryption and copy protection, widely used and lossless should ensure long-term preservation.
- For advice and guidance on file management, including file format selection, see Collect, organise, and store data.
- Both the Swedish National Archives and the Swedish National Data Service (SND) have recommendations on choosing the right file format for long-term preservation and usability.
Data preservation and documentation
For data to be understandable and usable in the future, it must be archived and preserved with the appropriate metadata. Good metadata provides contextual information about the data itself, as well as the processes and analyses that have been performed on it. Metadata is also often a prerequisite for making data searchable.
- For more information on documenting data and its processing and analysis, see Collect, organise, and store data and Process and analyse data.
Data preservation, data security and data protection
For data to be reusable, it must be archived and stored securely, along with its documentation and metadata.
First, you need to ensure the security of the data by making sure that only authorised people can access the data to read, edit and use it. This should mean that the data and its metadata are safe from unauthorised access and use (e.g. manipulation, modification, destruction).
Second, if the data to be archived and preserved contains personal or sensitive information, additional measures must be considered to ensure protection where necessary (see Collect, organise, and store data and Process and analyse data for more information).
Data preservation and storage
At SLU you can store data for archiving and preservation either in an external repository or in the SLU archive (i.e. on a local server). However, SLU does not currently have a central solution for storing large amounts of data, so such large amounts of data will need to be stored locally (e.g. on an internal server) or externally (e.g. in a repository or database; note that this cannot be considered archiving on behalf of SLU unless a contract is in place to clarify this).
In any case, please note that data collected, generated, acquired, processed and analysed as part of a research activity carried out at SLU, regardless of where it is stored, is part of the SLU archive and, as such, is subject to national legislation on the handling of official documents.
- For more general information about storing data, see Collect, organise, and store data.
- For advice on storing and preserving data in (external) repositories, see Share and publish data.
- SLU's Archives, Information Management and Registration Unit can provide advice on archiving and preserving research material in SLU's central archive.
Best practice for making research data findable and accessible is to deposit it in a repository. These should collect and display data together with associated documentation and metadata.
- For more information on how to make data findable and accessible, see Share and publish data.
It is important to note that in order for data to remain usable in the future, it must be actively managed during preservation, together with its metadata (note that external data repositories do not usually take care of this). Digital sources can unfortunately degrade over time ('bit-rot'), so they need to be checked regularly to ensure that no degradation has occurred (e.g. by generating a checksum). In addition, as mentioned above, file formats can become obsolete over time. To address this risk of obsolescence, files and data must be migrated to alternative formats (ensure that the characteristics of such file migrations are documented).
How to dispose of data
If data is allowed to be disposed of, it must be disposed of in such a way that the information cannot be recovered. This is particularly important if the data contains information that is classified as personal or sensitive (regulated under the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act). In any case, simply deleting material from a file system is not enough, so other methods must be considered to ensure that the material cannot be recovered. Contact your department's IT coordinator or the SLU IT Department for more information on how to dispose of information securely.