Digital preservation is a thorny problem–how do you preserve items that are born digital, and how do you guarantee that those items will be accessible in the distant future, when people are trying to access…say, an old song, formatted as an MP3, on their holo-gadget, or whatever people are using 20, 30, 50 years from now?
It seems like an obvious enough problem: floppy disks used to be all the rage, but now how many of us actually have a computer with a floppy drive? Same with tapes and CDs–granted, people still have CDs, but more and more people just have songs on a digital library. And the information that was on floppy disks? Saved to hard drives, or uploaded to the Cloud.
The problem isn’t that people are unaware of the need for digital preservation, the problem is that it’s hard to get people to understand just how vitally important digital preservation is. David Anderson, in a paper titled “The Digital Dark Age” talked about just that problem. As he said:
“I have attended a number of conferences where participants debated whether the best approach to getting preservation taken seriously was to deploy somewhat apocalyptic tales of the dangers of losing large slices of our cultural heritage as a result of inattention to preservation, or to encourage better digital custodianship by more positive means. It probably needs a little of both, but the uncomfortable truth is the messenger is often more important than the message, and whether the approach is to scare the world at large into taking preservation seriously, or to provide less dramatic encouragement, the messenger needs to be able to cut through the noise and be heard (Anderson, pgs. 20-21).”
Anderson has a very valid point–we can talk all we want about how important and vital it is to preserve this song, or this e-book, or this digital file, but until we get someone important, someone with power, to listen, it won’t do any good.
Okay, so say you get Mr. Moneybags to listen, and to help fund your quest–how do you go about ensuring your item will be accessible in the far future?
The simple answer is to say that you just upload everything to the cloud, and Mr. Moneybags helps ensure that you have enough cloud storage for your digital museum or library or whatever you’re trying to preserve. But, as Lena Roland and David Bawden ask, “what happens to your family’s photo collection if it’s held in the cloud and your password goes to the grave with you (Roland, pg. 224)?” Same issue with a functioning museum or any place that is working to digitally preserve items–how do you ensure access after you die, while also guaranteeing the safety of your digital items? You can’t password protect your archives and share your password with just anyone; that makes the password completely redundant.
The cloud, then, is only good as a short-term solution to a very pressing problem. It’s not easy, finding a solution that works. The web is constantly being updated, and programs like Wayback Machine, can only capture so much information. There’s also the problem of too much information: “Just as in the past, not everything can, or should be preserved. And, just as in the past, there must be careful purposive selection, while allowing for some more speculative element (Roland, pg. 226).”
Digital preservation isn’t easy, not by any means. People have to listen, to recognize how important it is, and we also have to find a method that works. It’ll take time, and a lot of effort, but it is essential if we want to avoid a digital dark age, where people in the future are unable to know what happened, and unable to access the information we saved.
Anderson, D. (2015). The Digital Dark Age. Communications of the ACM, 58(12), 20–23. https://doi-org.libdata.lib.ua.edu/10.1145/2835856
Moneybags. (2018). Villains Wiki. Retrieved 1 December 2018, from http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Moneybags
Top 5 Futuristic Technology & Inventions ▶ This Will Change Our Future # 1. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 1 December 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pspy2HOUlk
Roland, L., & Bawden, D. (2012). The Future of History: Investigating the Preservation of Information in the Digital Age. Library & Information History, 28(3), 220–236. https://doi-org.libdata.lib.ua.edu/10.1179/1758348912Z.00000000017