Jenny Reeder

The Realities of Digital Preservation
October 30, 2006, 6:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Minutes, 1842-1844This is an image from the first page of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society Minutes, an organization of Mormon women dating from 17 March 1842. This minutebook belongs to the LDS Church and has restricted access due to its historic nature and value. Fortunately, the book has been digitized and published in a large DVD collection by the LDS Church and BYU Studies and is available to the general public.  This digitizing effort has provided access to hundreds of valuable historical documents. The DVD collection, however, is not a preservation format.

Last year I had the privilege of taking a Preservation and Reformatting course at New York University in the archival management program from Paula DeStefano.  Paula raised the same questions in class that she raises in our readings as cited by Cohen & Rosenzweig in Digital History. How realistic is it to assume that digitized material and websites will last? She said, “The digital landscape looks bleak for preservation purposes.”

While I am exited by the possibilities of digital history and new media, I fear for its future. I worry about the difficulty of migration of hardware and software and I am concerned about lost materials in preservation. In particular, I am concerned about the incredible amount of work in putting together such potentially valuable websites and I worry about their preservation. What will happen when I graduate and am unable to use my Mason webspace? What happens when something goes down; will all our material be lost? I recognize the importance of backing up, but what about the importance of preserving access?

As a student of digital history, I love learning about different media with which to present and analyze history. As an archivist, however, I remain skeptical about the long-term value of such work. How can I guarantee that my work will endure through the next ten years of technological development? I am extremely grateful for a digital copy of the Relief Society Minutes. It makes my research much easier from the other side of the country. But how can I ensure that my reserach will be preserved as long?


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I, too, get bothered by the etherial nature of information on the web. Take some comfort in the power of repetition. For example, we have many ancient works now because certain monasteries made a point of pulling down manuscripts every few generations and making copies. No, we do not have any works by Socrates in his own hand, but Plato wrote some of his works down, then Aristotle made copies, and his students made copies. It may not be perfect, but it is a start. Printing, according to Elizabeth Eisenstein, did not make better books, but it did make more books, and they were distributed more widely. She claims repetition and distribution made all the difference in spreading information through out Europe. Hopefully the Internet will serve that purpose too.

Comment by Misha Griffith

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