Week 6: Digital Collections and Digital Preservation

Some of the readings this week address concerns and questions about digital preservation which I’ve had for a while, and although they didn’t provide answers I am at least more positive than I had been, albeit cautiously.

It seems to me very easy to get caught up in the possibility of digital history, in all the exciting opportunities before us and forget to think about the durability of the sites or projects we create. We’ve talked in class about websites which show their age in terms of the user interface, and I’m glad that we’re addressing the basic accessibility or readability of the underlying data to future users. Just because something is digitized now doesn’t mean it will be usable 10 years down the line.

I might be a bit hyperaware of this – I know that I drew pictures of my cat, Middy, using MacPaint on our computer when I was a kid. I don’t know where those files are, and even if I could find them, would there be a program to open them? My father brought home a QuickTake camera in the 1990s; in the early 2000s he decided to try and open the files, and it took him about three years to find an application which could do so.

In addition to these personal examples, I remember reading about the efforts of the National Security Archive to ensure that presidential records from the 1970s and 80s would/will be readable by the time the confidentiality restrictions were/are lifted on them. I think that the authors of the article on digital forensics were not far off the mark in the predicting that there may be a need for engineers/developers who specialize in making older forms of born-digital or digitized content readable. While some individuals and institutions might make the effort to migrate as formats evolve, it’s unreasonable to expect that everyone will.

I wonder how much auto-generated metadata will be lost in the translation?

Which brings up another point from this week’s reading, specifically from Cohen and Rosenzweig – Document! Document! Document! Build the metadata into the code of your website or project, and track your changes in some sort of readme! Not only will be this be useful to scholars 10 or 20 years in the future, it will also be useful to the next person who works on your project! Or even to you, when, in six months, you try to remember why you built something the way you did.