Digital Preservation

While digital preservation serves as a great tool for researchers, there are also a lot of problems that come along with this practice. One of the greatest issues is storage and ensuring that what one preserves is backed-up and accessible. In his article, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” Roy Rosenzweig notes that most means of digital storage do not last very long, oftentimes not even ten years. He insists that many of the major concerns about digital preservation are blown out proportion, including the fears surrounding storage. He acknowledges the fears that digital documents will one day disappear and that generations of history will be lost. He placates the worriers by saying that centuries of history have already been lost (he indicates prehistoric history). While Rosenzweig draws the readers attention to these potential problems, he does not provide any solutions to ensure that these problems do not transpire. In fact, he sometimes indicates that it would not be a big deal if they did. After reading this article, I believe that most of these issues are still important, particularly the one about storage. While it is impossible to preserve the entire internet, it would be a shame to lose everything and with the storage limitations that Rosenzweig describes, it seems that this could be a real possibility. Although a lot of history has been lost, such as prehistory, there are still tangible objects that date from the period. While physical objects from the twenty-first century will survive, the culture and the daily-lives of this era are very digital.

Digital preservation works well in conjunction with physical objects. The Smithsonian’s Tour Browser allows users to get up close and personal with objects in a way that would not be possible in person. Harvard has created a way to repair broken objects digitally. This is an incredible means of digital preservation but there is a concern that these technologies will be used in place of physical objects. Or, that once the physical object is digitized, that physical object can be thrown away. Returning to the storage issue, this is not practical. Although we are unsure how long a digitized object will last, we know that when stored and cared for properly, paper and other objects can last hundreds if not thousands of years. Roy Rosenzweig addresses this problem in his article as well and says that librarians and archivists do not buy into the idea that all physical objects can be or must be preserved. This is true, and while digitizing or microfilming (the example given in the article) do save space they may not always be there long-term. It is a tricky battle but at this point preserving and saving physical objects online seems too fragile and impermanent to discard all physical copies.

Technology has changed considerably over the years and the means to methods to preserve digital objects as well as physical objects digitally have only improved. Hopefully as more time passes this technology will continue to improve and make it easier for preservationists to ensure that these objects are saved properly and usable for years, if not decades and centuries to come.

2 thoughts on “Digital Preservation

  1. I know there’s no guarantee that digitizing a collection of old books, for example, will preserve them longer than that hard copies will last. There’s just no way to predict future changes in technology, or that the scans we make now will be compatible with digital technologies. But I also feel that these concerns are overblown. At least there’s a chance, through digitization, that a collection of old books could live on after they decay as digital copies. I think we will find ways to convert important materials to make them compatible with new technologies. But even without a guarantee, I think we still need to attempt digital preservation on faith that we’ll find a way to solve these problems eventually.

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