When it comes to archiving digital and born-digital materials, standards do not necessarily abound. However, the standards that do exist provide valuable guidelines for preserving our digital assets.
Standards arise from a variety of different sources. Ad hoc standards are rules that come from local practices. In a given institution, certain rules may be developed for unique situations within that organization. De facto standards are guidelines that are shared within a community. Finally, there are de jure or published standards. These are standards that face formal committee approval processes. These guiding principles are set forth by national and international bodies.
Some of the organizations that publish these standards include: International Standards Organization (ISO), World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and National Information Standards Organization (NISO). De jure standards come from international organizations like these.
So, now that we know where standards come from, why are standards so important? Imaging you get a file from a friend. They sent you a story that they typed up a couple years ago and want your thoughts on it. When you open the file, all you see is gibberish, symbols, and no actual text. It is likely that the font that they used when they initially wrote the document is not part of your text editor application. Without that font file, you will not be able to read the story that your friend wrote.
Standards help situations like this in a number of ways. By saving files with non-proprietary fonts, you can be more certain that the file will be readable later. In addition, the text file can be saved as a PDF or PDF/A (PDF for Archiving). In doing so, the font used will no longer be a separate file needed to read the document; it will be embedded in the file itself. This way, the font will travel with the file, removing the risk of turning the text to gibberish.
It is important to remember that standards for digital materials are still changing and developing. There is no ideal or absolute best practice, but it is important to think about the future of your (born) digital records and how you want them to be accessible.