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Bridges to the past; links to the future



That was the title of a joint Pacific Northwest Librarian's/British
Columbia Librarian's conference during the mid-80's, and I gave one of the
keynote talks.

During this time the US National Archives had commissioned a study to
determine whether or not they should expend resources on digital media.
The conclusion of the study was that human-readable records were more
important than electronic readable records.  The National Archives was in
competition with the US Library of Congress and they each began to spend
large amounts of money on digital records.

In my illustrated talk I showed slides of various methods of reducing the
size of information.  All of the examples were human-readable.  By that
time (over ten years ago) there were already tens of thousands of reels of
electronic data which were inacessible because either the machines required
to read them, or the software to interpret them were unavailable.

Some people think that CD's are a useful answer; I can only suggest that
those people attempt to find a machine which will play a wire recording.

Christopher Hicks raises a more interesting question than he may be aware
of when he states that: "The number of examples of books being lost is
significantly greater than the number of examples of electronic data being
lost..."

Conservators are fond of speaking in terms of decades, centuries, &
millenia when describing the mechanisms of deterioration.

But a decade and a half ago, a mere 15 years, is the time between when it
cost $10,000 to master a CD, and today when one can purchase a CD mastering
machine for less than $500.  A few years ago I spent a lot of time thinking
about whether or not to purchase a Bernoulli drive which had 5 megabyte
removable disks; now I have more than a gigabyte spinning around on my
computer, and back-up in 104 megabyte units.

I have been using computers for many years now, and some of my early disks
contain data which is inaccessable to me.  I no longer have a computer
which will read them.  There are institutions out there now which do not
have the resources to upgrade the digital data in their care.  I have seen
them.

Many libraries contain books published during World War II.  During this
time a great many translations of important technical works were published.
These were all printed on paper which met the war-time standard of not
using cotton fiber because cotton was a war material; used for making
explosives.

It is my suspicion that those publications are on a fast track,
deteriorating at a rate in excess of other books printed on paper which
contains stronger fibers, produced before and after WW II.

My personal opinion is that between the books published during World War
II, and the electronic record, future historians looking to our time will
have precious little to inform their public.  _A Canticle for Leibowitz_ is
an interesting read in this respect.

Electronically, we have already lost more than was lost at Alexandria.

Sadly,
Jack


>Date:    Thu, 8 May 1997 19:55:15 -0400
>From:    Christopher Hicks <chicks@xxxxxxxxxx>
>Subject: Re: List changes (actually saving email- printing it out)
>
>I've seen a lot of interesting and wonderful stories spawned from this
>discussion, but I think there is some perspective missing.
>
>For instance, On 8 May 1997, Maureen Carey wrote:
>> I worry that future archives will be scanty, or unavailable because they
>> were on-line and the power went out or the server crashed or because of
>> the ease of e-mail that the writers didn't keep copies/back-ups printed
>> or electronic.
>
>The number of examples of books being lost is significantly greater than
>the number of examples of electronic data being lost.  When we have an
>example like the Library at Alexandria for the electronic world, your case
>will be stronger.

Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR  97217

www.teleport.com/~tcl/


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