The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 5

Universal Preservation Format

by Thom Shepard

(Note: This is a message that the author sent to the AMIA [Association of Moving Image Archivists] listserv on January 7. To contact the author, send a message to

In 1997 the WGBH Educational Foundation received NHPRC funding for the Universal Preservation Format (UPF) project. The UPF project goal was to advocate for, produce and publish a Recommended Standard for long-term storage and preservation of digital material.

A 32-page final working draft of the User and Technical Requirements written by Dave MacCarn, Project Co-Director and Thom Shepard, Project Archivist, is now available in PDF format on the UPF website ( This is the revised version of the document distributed during the UPF session at last month's AMIA Conference in Miami.

If you have trouble downloading this document, we [WGBH project personnel] can either email it to you in PDF or Word 7 formats or mail you the printed version upon your request.

The UPF initiative has brought together in discussions archivists, engineers, librarians and computer specialists from all over the country. UPF has begun to address both strategic technical and metadata issues of concern to archivists and others in conjunction with digital material.

The User and Technical Requirements document referred to above is a pleasure to read, because it is so well-formatted (thanks to PDF), so well-thought-out and so well written. Here are some excerpts from the first two pages of the part on user requirements:

1. Purpose of this Document

This report attempts to provide a context for the Universal Preservation Format by documenting how the UPF initiative builds upon other standards and technologies, how it serves the specific needs of the WGBH Educational Foundation, and how it fulfills broader archival requirements expressed by other institutions and organizations. In a sense, this document functions as metadata to the essence of the companion document, Technical Requirements of the UPF.

2. Definition

The Universal Preservation format is a data file mechanism that utilizes a container or wrapper structure. Its framework incorporates metadata that identifies its contents within a registry of standard data types and serves as the source code for mapping or translating binary composition into accessible or useable forms. The UPF is designed to be independent of the computer applications that created them, independent of the operating system from which these applications originated, and independent of the physical media upon which it is stored. The UPF is characterized as "self-described" because it includes within its metadata all the technical specifications required to build and rebuild appropriate media browsers to access its contained materials throughout time. Objects within the UPF are branded with a unique identifier that travels with that object throughout time. Any modification made to the content of the object must be reflected in its identifier.

3. Scope

... While other initiatives work toward making digital materials publicly accessible today, we are investigating technologies that will save them for many tomorrows. Our success depends in part upon instilling a new awareness within the computer industry: that future digital storage products must be designed to answer the documented requirements of users.

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