Development of a Preferred formats guide

19 June 2020

If you want to store digital data in a sustainable way, knowledge about file formats is indispensable. A white paper highlights the plans for a guide in this area. Heritage institutions are invited to comment on this.

In the 1990s, organizations massively switched from WordPerfect as the most used word processor to Word. But to what extent can we still consult the information in a WordPerfect file? The example is exemplary for how the digital environment is constantly changing, says Hans Laagland. From the Netwerk Digital Erfgoed he is project leader of the project Preservation watch en preferred formats

“As an organization, you want to be prepared for upcoming changes, so that the information can still be consulted in the future,” Hans continues. “It is therefore important to know more about file formats and to develop a policy for this as an institution.”


An online overview of file formats and a description of their durability comes in handy. “From the Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed we want to create a guide that helps institutions in making policy on preferred formats.”

The guide will contain sources about formats, as well as an overview of the file formats used by heritage institutions. “In the current plans, the institutions will soon be able to share their knowledge and experiences via the guide.

Readable by human and machine 

As the guide becomes will be and machine readable, the descriptions of the file formats can be linked to databases and knowledge bases about formats. Think of Wikidata, Termennetwerk  and COPTRa website that provides an overview of tools that can be used for long-term preservation of digital files. “This way we can reuse existing information,” says Hans.

Whitepaper offers research agenda 

Hans and his team would like to test whether the guide in the current set-up matches the wishes of the heritage institutions. “Because we cannot discuss this in a group because of corona, we have published a white paper. Here we map out the issues of file formats and outline the design of the guide. We ask the institutions to provide feedback on the need and functionalities of the signpost, “says Hans.

More information

As an expert in the field of digital preservation, DANS is part of the Preservation Watch & Preferred Formats project, which is part of the Digitaal Erfgoed Houdbaar program of Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed. 

Download de Whitepaper Guide Preferred Formats

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