Magazine article Information Today

Digital Preservation: An Ever-Growing Challenge

Magazine article Information Today

Digital Preservation: An Ever-Growing Challenge

Article excerpt

[This column lets experts in the information technology industry discuss the challenges and trends in their special niche in the marketplace. --Ed.]

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

--Albert Einstein

In the last 2 decades, digital technology has enabled us to create, use, and be enriched by information in ways that were unthinkable a generation ago. According to the International Data Corp., the amount of information that is created, captured, or replicated in digital form in 2011 will be 10 times greater than that produced in 2006.

The same technological advances that make obtaining and sharing information so easy also pose some modern challenges. A 4,000-year-old stone tablet displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is still readable today. However, without proper preservation, a video on the museum's website today that describes how to preserve the tablet may not be viewable within 10 years. The need to preserve digital assets is only a few decades old, but it is growing and becoming more pressing by the day.

The following factors are among those that affect the preservation of digital information:

* The media on which digital information is stored and the media's usable lifespan

* The availability of the hardware, operating systems, and software applications required to access the digital objects

Recently, a number of preservation projects focusing on the digitization of physical objects have made headlines. Although these initiatives have a major international importance, they focus on only a fraction of the world's digital materials--those that have been created through the digitization of a physical object. The most acute digital preservation challenge actually lies in preserving items that were produced in digital format (that is, those born digital). These objects represent more than 90% of the world's information.

Although it may seem like ancient history, just a few years ago, we were using word-processing programs such as WordStar and saving our work on floppy disks. How many of us then thought about creating copies of our work in alternative formats so that it would be available to us in the future? And what about the information created less than a decade ago on other types of media that we might want to use today?

The window of opportunity for preserving digital information is not as broad as anyone would like. A substantial volume of digitally born information has already been lost, and the pace of loss increases daily. One archivist for the state of Washington said that about half of the cultural and historical information of his state has been lost due to the lack of foresight to move quickly toward digital preservation.

Current Systems Are Not Sufficient

While many libraries and information centers have digital asset management systems or digital repositories for managing and storing digital objects, these systems are not designed with the preservation of the digital knowledge in mind. Rather, they focus on access management, or facilitating the day-to-day use of digital content by users. On the other hand, digital preservation is about guaranteeing the future usability of and accessibility to digital content.

Consider the following example of how a digital asset management system and a digital preservation system handle the digital scan of a rare book:

* To make the scanned book available to patrons online, the institution stores the images in a digital repository, which generally offers users the most easily viewable format. …

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