If you’re not in library technology, the term probably isn’t familiar to you, but it should be an issue that concerns all of us. We all have records that we want to keep for a long time. People love to take pictures and save them to show to their children and grandchildren. We make records of important events and don’t want to lose them. On a less sentimental level, we want to keep our financial and medical records available for years. Preservation is everyone’s concern, but we often forget how easy it is to lose things with computers. Individuals, clubs, schools, businesses, and governments all face these issues.
A box of photo prints sitting in a closet can last for generations, even if it fades a bit. What are the odds of a folder of JPEGs surviving that long? Computers get thrown away after a few years. Files are carelessly deleted. Formats become obsolescent. Storage devices fail. Websites vanish. Digital rights management turns material you’ve paid for into worthless bits.
Digital preservation is a complicated subject, and you could have a whole book on it. In fact, I’m working on just that: an e-book called Files that Last, which is aimed at a general computer-savvy audience and will present the ideas and the techniques for having long-lasting data. If you’d like to support this, please take a look at the Kickstarter project, which will help to create a quality edition that will reach a good-sized audience. A draft chapter on storage media (PDF) is available for your enjoyment.
In future posts, I’ll look in more detail at some of the issues involved.