The Future of Durability

By Quint, Barbara | Information Today, November 2007 | Go to article overview

The Future of Durability


Quint, Barbara, Information Today


Preservation, the task of retaining knowledge of all kinds in a usable and enduring form forever (if possible), is one of the missions to which all information professionals subscribe at one level or another.

Librarians meet their responsibilities in an array of venues from preserving and indexing local history in a public library to collecting company records in a corporate library to building massive content collections in major research libraries. Information professionals working in vendor establishments often build products designed to latch onto content and record it in the most usable format. Digital data, originally considered more fragile than the ponderous tomes of print, has demonstrated a special durability built around its ease of duplication.

For decades, librarians have provided archive services that have been based on licensed digital content from library vendors. But more and more, archival sources tapped by librarians have begun to involve the open Web, instead of licensed subscription-based services. And that brings those committed to the robust preservation of knowledge and the product of human intellect to a quandary.

Two Ways to Handle Preservation

Basically, there are only two ways to handle preservation---three, if you count a combination of the two. First come the True Believers, the people who are willing to pay---or hunt down and convince someone else to pay---to take on the task of preservation as a pure, holy, and generally altruistic mission. For example, in the world of cinematic preservation, this would include the Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, UCLA Film & Television Archive, and Eastman Kodak. Well, the usual suspects.

Second come the Invisible Hand types, those who don't set out to preserve anything, just to do themselves some good (e.g., make money, have fun, outshine their peers, whatever). For them, preservation is just a step in the process. For example, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Cable television, DVDs, the Long Tail, and--currently underway--the convergence of television and the Net, all of these and other factors revived and expanded the interest in any kind of entertainment content.

And what could be better than all those wonderful old movies? TCM even has a scheduled Sunday series featuring silent movies. It also issues boxed sets of DVDs featuring stars and filmmakers that were dead and buried decades before any reader of this column was born. Preservation is based on profit potential. If you can create a market for the aged content, it will be preserved automatically. Actually, TCM is the most extreme example of the "having fun" preservationists. They don't even take ads.

And so, we turn to The New York Times and ProQuest's Historical Newspapers archive. Look at the alternative business models in play here. As you may have heard (see the NewsBreak "Demise of TimesSelect Deals Blow to Pay-for-News and Alters Access to Archives" at http:// newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp ?ArticleId=39678), NYTimes.com abandoned its TimesSelect subscription service to embrace an ad-based model. When launched in 2005, TimesSelect's relatively cheap pricing may have piqued the interest of librarians who were then licensing the New York Times Historical News Archive from ProQuest. However, the service's orientation toward individual consumer sales probably led most library licensees to stay with ProQuest.

Cost Reigns Supreme

Now, however, anyone and everyone can access the NYTimes.com archives, searching and downloading full-text or full-images, all for not 1 cent, except for 1923 through 1986. In that time span, users can search for free, but they have to buy articles at $3.95 an item or $15.95 for 10-packs. Even ProQuest subscribers have to use NYTimes.com to conduct a complete archive search because ProQuest's archive for The New York Times currently stops at 2004. …

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