Digital dark ages

The article, “Fending off the digital dark ages: The archival storage issue,” discusses the problem of preserving digital documents for the future.  In the opening paragraphs, it describes a project completed in the 1980s and stored on digital media that is not virtually unreadable. And yet: “the original Domesday Book, handwritten on sheepskin, remains in the British archives, usable after nine centuries by anyone literate in Latin.” (Unfortunately, Latin literacy is becoming a lost art as well!)

This is an interesting article for anyone interested in the archival profession, as it is a serious problem facing archivists today.

On a personal note, the problems described in this article are precisely the reason why I print paper copies of my blog entries and digital photographs. Sure, it takes up more physical space (and more trees), but we have pieces of paper that are hundreds of years old!

I don’t trust digital media as a permanent storage solution. I try not to be lulled into a false sense of security by copying data to a USB flash drive or a CD-R and then delete it from my hard drive. What if I forget all about them until 10 years from now? Will the media still work? And even if it does, how would I know – will I be able to find a USB port or a CD-ROM drive in which to insert them? I have files stored on 3-1/2″ floppy discs and zip discs — when was the last time you saw a computer with these drives?

We have this problem at the library where I work, also. We have 16mm film reels and vinyl LPs in our historical collections. But the library no longer has the equipment to play them. On a side, note, however: since film and vinyl record data physically, these might actually be considered “more” archival than a piece of digital data. At least with a film reel, the image is still visible to the naked eye — it’s just really tiny! That is actually the logic behind microfilm as an archival standard.

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