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Re: Time and Technology

> ... electronic information is in peril because the means
> of recording it, particularly if it is magnetic media, deteriorates over
> Even optical media like CD-ROM, the article reports, is not permanent.
> other threat to digital archives comes from fast-changing technology that
> quickly replaces, and often dooms, the means of accessing the

Acting as the Devil's Advocate again ...

With  standard unillustrated book texts, at least, (including most novels,
plays and books of poetry) all they would have to do is store the text in
an ASCII format (which isn't likely to change anytime soon), and then
transfer it to new storage disks from time to time.  If there is a change
in technology they could translate the files into the new medium as part of
this process during the transition period.

True, it would take a fair amount of time and effort to keep these archives
running - but then so does repairing damaged books, and (perhaps more
importantly) with paper storage you have to have pay a lot of experienced
people to locate and transport archival records whenever they are wanted.
With digital records, you can make the end-user search the index (aided by
a computer index and search programmes) for themselves.

Digital storage beats paper storage hands-down at searching, retrieval,
availability (several hundred people can read the same record at the same
time) and flexibility of source material (print them out, edit them, do
anything you like with them).  When looking for information I, for one, use
computer archives before paper archives if they are available.  Reading for
pleasure is one thing, hunting information quite another.

You can lose digital archives due to computer error or decay of the digital
medium, but as long as you know this (and periodically copy the data onto
new disks and keep independent backups) then you can plan around it.  You
can lose paper archives in fires, floods, or if somebody throws the book on
the floor, steals it, misfiles it or otherwise loses it.  While this is
happening digital archives can sit safely in a fire-proof, water-proof,
relatively small box.

The main problem for any large, well-funded, well kept digital archive is
surely not the risks of long-term digital storage (which, since they are
known about, can be planned around), but the time and expense of producing
the archive in the first place.

And with a digital archive, you can also - should you so choose - set up an
automated system to print hard-copy paper backups at the same time.

Thomas Larque.

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