Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fending Off Digital Decay, Bit by Bit



Imagine having a record but no record player.

All of which means that archivists are finding themselves trying to fend off digital extinction at the same time that they are puzzling through questions about what to save, how to save it and how to make that material accessible.

“It’s certainly one of those issues that keeps a lot of people awake at night,” said Anne Van Camp, the director of the Smithsonian Institution Archives and a member of a task force on the economics of digital preservation formed by the National Science Foundation, among others.

Among the challenges facing libraries: hiring computer-savvy archivists to catalog material; acquiring the equipment and expertise to decipher, transfer and gain access to data stored on obsolete technologies like floppy disks; guarding against accidental alterations or deletions of digital files; and figuring out how to organize access in a way that’s useful. New York Times