In 2014 I was delighted to hear the Vatican discuss its intentions to digitally preserve the contents of its library, and so it is encouraging to also hear Harvard, another world-renowned institution, describing the task of ensuring that its assets “live on” as “one of the most pressing issues in preservation science”. After all, if any university is going to take the task of preserving its digital assets seriously, it’s going to be Harvard.The Harvard libraries and archives contain an immense volume of digital information that has been gathered over several decades, and is therefore currently stored on hundreds of different formats that are quickly becoming outdated. When this digital material first began to enter libraries in the 1980’s on floppy disks and tapes it was largely logged and tucked away as simply a growing collection of artefacts, and so a substantial amount of data may not have been accessed for 30 years, let alone archived or converted to a sustainable format. As a result, the Harvard librarians are now scrambling to move this data from the quickly aging formats upon which it is currently held to a modern medium that we can be confident will still be accessible in the near future, and understandably so. A recent study written by Timothy Vines has found that with every passing year, the odds of a data set that was published in the last 22 years being retrievable falls by 17 per cent. The degradation of a dated piece of digital data is therefore a process that may not occur for several years, but can suddenly and rapidly take irreversible effect; a looming threat that is driving the librarians’ urgent work. Read more about data:
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