Yes, the apocalypse is upon us. This has been the rallying cry within the information community for almost a decade now. In the 2007 article The Digital Library in One Hundred Years: Damage Control by Michael Seadle, the author aims to shine the light on damage control in expectation that we may soon loose decades of information to degradation and archaic technology.
The author recognizes the fact that institutions are going to let cost weigh heavily when choosing how to archive their content digitally. With too much choice available on the global market, there is no single company, standard or framework that has pulled ahead in the competition for metadata management systems.
Key factors that will affect whether or not the data we save will still be accessible 100 years from now are:
- Readability – will we be able to access content, and if so, can it still be read? Not only are bitrot and file corruption major areas of concern, but also simple items like pixel density, resolution, color management. Images & graphics produced twenty years ago had much lower quality than those produced today. Can modern technologies compensate for what may become radical differences in content quality?
- Framework – will your archive framework, storage systems, software, and hardware even be around for data to be extrapolated? What happens to digital content if a repository closes? Is damaged? Sold? While wealthier nations usually have the luxury of the uninterrupted flow of support services (like electricity, internet service), what happens in times of war or natural disaster?
- Economics – “Dependence on commercial can constitute a technological risk, since the company that provides the software is unlikely to keep supporting the product once it reaches the end of its profitability.” And as for open source code – that is often dependent upon the work of volunteers who may or may not have a vested interest in maintaining or updating an older system.
- Interoperability – how do you force disparate systems to work with one another? If one system is damaged, can it still effectively communicate with another in order for the information to be transferred?
The fear is real, as older machines required to access and read the obsolete media is gradually disappearing. While Vint Cerf has long been preaching the need for the establishment of the creation of digital vellum, parts of the U.S. Government still operates on 8 inch floppy disks! (And of course, it would HAVE to be tied to our nuclear arsenal!)
The cause has most recently been taken up by the Norwegian company Piql which has begun work on building an information “Doomsday Vault” which will be housed near the Svalbad Seed Vault. The warning is out there, but will we be able to act in time?