Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ever checked the ‘Use before’ date … on digital data?

What do you think should be the 'Use before' date printed on digital data? To a techno illiterate like me, it seems virtually indestructible. I'm wrong, though. Abby Smith, Director of Programs, Council on Library and Information Resources (a Washington, DC, nonprofit organization that was helping the Library of Congress to draft a proposal asking legislators to fund research on a long-term solution for data preservation) has this to say: "The layman's view is that digital information is more secure, when in fact it's far more ephemeral. We know how to keep paper intact for hundreds of years. But digital information is all in code. Without access to that code, it's lost." Succinctly put, the problem, according to Claire Tristram (Data Extinction), is: "… how to preserve digital things - data, software and the electronics needed to read them - as they age. Paper documents last for hundreds of years, but more and more of what matters to us is digitally produced, and we can't guarantee that any of it will be usable 100, or 10, or even five years from now." And: "The naive view of digital preservation is that it's merely a question of moving things periodically onto new storage media, of making sure you copy your files from eight-inch floppy disks to five-and-a-quarter, to three-and-a-half, to CD, and on to the next thing before the old format fades away completely. But moving bits is easy. The problem is that the decoding programs that translate the bits are usually junk within five years, while the languages and operating systems they use are in a state of constant change"

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