Have you received a PDF file by e-mail today? Even if you have not, there is a good chance you did recently, or read a document on the Web, or in your organization’s database, that was in PDF format. This is because the PDF (Portable Document Format) for storing and sharing information electronically has become part of the organizational landscape of today and a new ISO standard will ensure that PDF files remain in good shape for a long time into the future.

ISO 19005, Document management – Electronic document file format for long-term preservation – Part 1, Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1), enables organizations to archive documents electronically in a way that will ensure the preservation of content and visual appearance over an extended period of time. It also allows documents to be retrieved and rendered with a consistent and predictable result in the future, independent of the tools and systems used for creating, storing and rendering the files.

PDF is a digital format for representing documents. It has become the standard for the exchange and storage of data because of its significant amount of compression for document files. PDF files may be created natively in PDF form, converted from other electronic formats, or digitized from paper, microform or other hard copy format. Once created, the files must remain useable and accessible across multiple generations of technology. This is where ISO 19005 comes in.

Digital Library programme manager at the Harvard University Library Stephan Abrams commented: "The publication of PDF/A will have a significant impact on the preservation of electronic documents by defining an internationally recognized standard format that is amenable to long-term preservation.

"The standard will allow libraries, archives, and other electronic resource consumers to encourage their content providers to produce and deliver those resources in a form that is optimized for their effective preservation over time."

It is estimated that the total size of the surface Web is 167 terabytes (1 terabyte is equivalent to the size of a large public library), 9,2 % of which consist of PDF documents. According to Susan Sullivan of the US National Archives and Records Administration, "PDF/A files will be more self-contained, self-describing, device-independent than generic PDF 1.4 files, and should allow information to be retained longer as PDF."

President of the international authority on Enterprise Content Management (ECM), John Mancini summed up the successful coordinated effort: "The speed with which PDF/A was developed is a testament to the commitment of the committee members worldwide. The collaborative effort put forth by representatives from the archival records management, government and other communities ensures that this standard will fit the needs of those communities."

Future parts of ISO 19005 will be created, which will provide compatibility with future versions of the underlying PDF specification, while maintaining the current standard and applications based on PDF Version 1.4.

ISO 19005-1:2005 costs 112,00 Swiss francs and is available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat (see below). The new standard is the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 171, Document management applications, subcommittee SC 2, Application issues.