Sunday, January 3, 2010

Musing on Paper Archives

I've often argued that microfilm is better for long-term preservation than digital. Sure, they're not searchable (though I have no issues digitizing and searchabilifying microfilm), but the information is always available. If your digital file gets corrupted, or you forget to back it up, or forget to save it onto whatever the new storage media is, or the world ends*, your information is GONE. With microfilm, all you need is a magnifying glass and a light source to get at the information.

I do have to admit, however, that I wouldn't want to roast marshmallows over microfilm. If nothing else, this should be a good reason to keep paper libraries.

* I don't actually believe we are in the throes of the apocalypse, but you know, stuff happens.


RPS77 said...

In the perfect world with unlimited resources, I would want to have all three (printed, digital image, film image), or at least two out of the three, for all archival text materials. Long-term preservation of archival materials in digital form is a huge issue, and one that doesn't really have a parallel with previous forms of information storage. Digital media is also so much more vulnerable to being altered and manipulated than other formats that reliability can become a huge issue, especially if there are any legal ramifications attached.

On the other hand, digital formats provide such huge advantages in access, though that I think they will continue to gain popularity over not just microfilm but also even actual printed material. I don't see them replacing printed material any time in the foreseeable future, though. Printed materials still have a lot of advantages, not least being the fact that vast amounts of printed material are still unavailable in digital format, or are very difficult to find if they have been "digitized".

Digger said...

RPS~, I totally agree. The convenience of digital documents is incredible. I love searchable libraries! Even when I have to pay for full access to something, just the fact that I can even find out that it exists because the document has been digitized and indexed is huge (I'm thinking in particular of digitized newspaper collections, and also of "snippet" or "limited" view only Google Books).

For long term preservation (vs. "working copies") I still have to side with microfilm/form. In some cases, originals are disappearing -- I worked in an archive where the post-1850+ newspapers were actively disintegrating into crumbles, through no fault of their storage environment (wood pulp paper from that period is just bad, and the deterioration just feeds on itself).

Not only do we have very little idea of the physical preservation qualities of digital media, but the technology changes very, very quickly. If you don't keep up with it (and maintenance is a huge issue) all your stuff gets locked on media that can't be read. Maybe this makes me a fuddy-duddy, I don't know :)