In her article “Eternal Bits,” Mackenzie Smith discusses the ephemeral nature of digital formats, explaining,“In an era when the ability to read a document, watch a video, or run a simulation could depend on having a particular version of a program installed on a specific computer platform, the usable life span of a piece of digital content can be less than 10 years.”
So considering the rapid progression of format obsoletism, how do we follow NISO’s guidelines for good digital collections, specifically Collections Principle 7: A good collection is interoperable, and Collections Principle 9: A good collection is sustainable over time? I think Collections Principle 3, active curation, is part of the solution, if that curation can include periodically migrating data to new, sustainable and widely accessible formats.
In her article, Smith offers the project DSpace as a means of tackling the preservation issue. DSpace is an open source digital repository that “not only accepts digital materials and makes them available on the Web but also puts them into a data-management regime that helps to preserve them for generations to come.” This data curation is the key to assuring preservation and accessibility.
Another interesting point Smith mentions is that there are certain legal obligations that require assurance that “certain records haven’t been altered by human hands or computer malfunction.” Yet, in the case of scanning documents with optical character recognition software, I’ve seen words get garbled–letters L and I misread as 1 or !–and these digital documents practically require some manual editing for the sake of legibility. I wonder how the law copes with these instances?
And now, a seque to an interesting story that popped up on Yahoo! today, about a Russian archaeologist who believes he has found Itil, the lost capital of the Khazars, a nation that disappeared over 1,000 years ago. As of yet, archaeologists have found no Khazar writings or Jewish artifacts, so some still question whether this find is really Itil. Stalin apparently had all mention of the Khazars removed from Russia’s history books as they did not fit with his concept of Russian history. While there are Jewish, Armenian and Islamic writings about the people of Itil, from the Khazars themselves very few writings have been found. I wonder what happened to the Khazars’ writings about Itil? Did Stalin destroy them all? Did the paper burn when the Russians sacked the city, or did it simply crumble over the centuries?
Can our bold digital collections survive the test of time?