What exactly is the digital preservation problem?

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_PHOENIX.PRINCETON.EDU>
Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2002 06:58:23 -0500

[This is an excerpt from an ongoing international symposium at
http://www.text-e.org/ currently focussed on Jason Epstein's "Reading:
The Digital Future." You can join the discussion at:
http://www.text-e.org/debats/ ]


        Stevan Harnad

    Richard Minsky: [From: "WHAT DIGITAL BOOKS DO WE PRESERVE?"]
    "One of Dr. Smith's points was that it is very difficult, given the
    limited budgets available for preservation, deciding what to
    preserve. How do we decide which digital media to reformat to the
    next generation of media?"

It is not at all clear to me why this question is even asked! It is
incomparably cheaper and easier and surer to create, store, and keep
upgrading bits than it ever was to create, store, and keep analog

(I have a feeling that preservationists may be conflating the problem of
converting analog text and images into digital ones with the problem of
preserving the bits themselves -- hence conflating the preservation of
the analog legacy with the preservation of the digital legacy. But even
that would not explain the Angst, because there is plenty of room in
cyberspace for those bits too, and for their perpetual uploading to each
new generation of preservation, tagging and sensory projection
platforms. So an additional worry must be about something being left
out, overlooked. But this is not a problem of expense either; it is
merely a problem of organization. And once the world's digital legacy
is firmly in the digital domain -- both in fact and in people's minds,
instead of helter-skelter in the analog and hybrid domain, as it is
now, in this early embryonic phase -- once all those literary eggs are
all uploaded into the one collective virtual basket, the planet will
(easily) develop the requisite reliable, distributed, interoperable,
redundant backup, markup, upgrade and continuous upload systems, as
surely as it is well on the way to doing the same sort of thing with
with Internet connectivity already -- with Google, for one, well
on the way to doing a goodly bit all by itself, for the current
fragmentary but growing digital legacy (2,073,418,204 eggs, as we
speak), within the span of of its harvesting cycles.)

Budgets? Deciding? We should never have any worse problems!

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Jan 05 2002 - 14:12:02 GMT

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