article on born-digital preservation in NYT

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/books/16archive.html

Even if those storage media do survive, the relentless march of technology can mean that the older equipment and software that can make sense of all those 0’s and 1’s simply don’t exist anymore.Imagine having a record but no record player.

Actually, it’s of course worse! If I needed to in the apocalypse, I could listen to a vinyl record with a sewing needle and a cone of paper. (You could improve upon that design with some sort of suspended weighted arm for the needle. After the apocalypse, we’ll have plenty of time to perfect our technique). Although I won’t get stereo for an LP.  But I can’t do much of anything with an 8″ floppy.

Leslie Morris, a curator at the Houghton Library, said, “We don’t really have any methodology as of yet” to process born-digital material. “We just store the disks in our climate-controlled stacks, and we’re hoping for some kind of universal Harvard guidelines,” she added.

I’m thinking Ms. Morris is regretting being quoted sounding so reactionary instead of innovative. Shouldn’t libraries be figuring this stuff out, not waiting for someone else (who?) to figure it out and tell us?

Among the challenges facing libraries: hiring computer-savvy archivists to catalog material; acquiring the equipment and expertise to decipher, transfer and gain access to data stored on obsolete technologies like floppy disks; guarding against accidental alterations or deletions of digital files; and figuring out how to organize access in a way that’s useful.

It is a challenge,no doubt.  Isn’t this the business we’re supposed to be in though?  If we want to convince everyone that we’re still relevant, well, we have to DO it. But that’s really up to administrators and funding priorities to some extent, I realize.

At the Emory exhibition, visitors can log onto a computer and see the screen that Mr. Rushdie saw, search his file folders as he did, and find out what applications he used. (Mac Stickies were a favorite.) They can call up an early draft of Mr. Rushdie’s 1999 novel, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” and edit a sentence or post an editorial comment.

Okay, that is pretty cool.

It may even be possible in the future to examine literary influences by matching which Web sites a writer visited on a particular day with the manuscript he or she was working on at the time.

Ha, when we have no privacy anymore, it’ll be a boon for historians!  If we can manage to preserve it.

Located in Silicon Valley, Stanford has received a lot of born-digital collections, which has pushed it to become a pioneer in the field. This past summer the library opened a digital forensics laboratory — the first in the nation.

The heart of the lab is the Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device, nicknamed FRED, which enables archivists to dig out data, bit by bit, from current and antiquated floppies, CDs, DVDs, hard drives, computer tapes and flash memories, while protecting the files from corruption. (Emory is giving the Woodruff library $500,000 to create a computer forensics lab like the one at Stanford, Ms. Farr said.)

That’s pretty cool too. Okay, some libraries are indeed doing what needs be done.

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2 Responses to article on born-digital preservation in NYT

  1. Dorothea says:

    I’m not surprised that Emory is doing well where Harvard is faltering. Leadership has a lot to do with it; Emory has Rick Luce.

  2. Pingback: seminar-nigeria-arabic-manuscripts-in-west-africa « SocioLingo Africa

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