Friday, March 27, 2009

Should You Worry About Data Rot?

Yes. See this article by Times technology columnist David Pogue, which contains an edited transcript of an interview with Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

According to Spicer, “the lifespan of DVDs varies from 5 to 100 years, according to testing … hard disks only last five years, generally.” He recommends that “every five or ten years” digital content should be migrated to a different format. He adds:

Making lots of backups is good advice, and on different formats, different places; consider paper as an archival medium. Some paper we have has lasted thousands of years. If Moses had gotten the Ten Commandments on a floppy disk, it would never have made it to today.

The Ten Commandments were engraved on stone. These tablets are no longer extant (we’re still looking for the Lost Ark of the Covenant), but since their content was migrated to new formats—from leather and papyrus scrolls to vellum and paper codices—they have been preserved.

Image: Detail of Rembrandt’s “Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law” (1659)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leveraging the Value of Unique Local Collections

OCLC provides access to presentations made through its Distinguished Speakers Series here. The last two speakers have focused on managing unique local collections.

This month Richard Ovenden (Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford) discussed some of his institution's initiatives for managing unique local collections (as opposed to uniform universal collections [the easy but expensive stuff]). See the webcast here.

Last month Tom Hickerson (Vice Provost for Libraries and Cultural Resources and University Librarian at the University of Calgary) discussed how his institution is bringing together archives, libraries, museums, and a university press in a new research facility, The Taylor Family Digital Library, at the heart of the campus. See the webcast here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Books and Google

The Great Google Book Debate Continues. See: “Google & Books: An Exchange” from The New York Review of Books.

Lorcan Dempsey has a post that highlights the research tips offered through the Google Book Search site. Dempsey also points out that if you search Google for “book” the first result is Google Book Search (the “I’m Feeling Lucky” search takes you there directly).

The last Google Book Search research tip is this:

For those wanting to seem more erudite, there is this feature:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Death of the Author and the Life of the Recordkeeper

See: “The Private Barthes: Posthumous Publication of the Theorist's Journals Draws Disapproval.”

Private matters should be published when you have a writer of [Barthes's] importance … keeping in mind that he did not write it for publication.

Speaking of death, death is coming for the museum of death. See: “A Funeral Museum at Death’s Door.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Real-Time Web

Google is history. That is to say, Google indexes the historical web. The future is a matter of speculation, but it seems that the present is the real-time web.

At a conference from which I just returned, I became aware that I could search Twitter for the conference tag and immediately discover what people thought about what was going on. I was particularly interested in what people thought of the panel that I was on, but—alas—we didn’t draw in many twitterers.

Image: Central Library, Downtown Seattle, March 12, 2009.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stories Worth Preserving

I just heard Ira Glass speak about how he creates compelling stories (very basically, there is a structure of action and reflection). During the Q&A period, he mentioned that he views his work as something for the present but would love to have an institution help him with his personal archives.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Systems of the Book and Alexandria 2.0

Sven Birkerts comments in the Atlantic on what may be lost in the page-to-screen transfer:

The [printed] book is part of a system. And that system stands for the labor and taxonomy of human understanding, and to touch a book is to touch that system, however lightly.

The electronic book, on the other hand, represents—and furthers—a circuitry of instant access, which giveth (information) as it taketh away (the great clarifying context, the order). … My fear is that as Wikipedia is to information, so will the Kindle become to literature and the humanities: a one-stop outlet, a speedy and irresistibly efficient leveler of context.

Speaking of digital books and systems, the Economist has an interesting article on Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive.

Cloud-Capped Archives

A project report is available on DuraSpace.
From the introduction:
DuraSpace is envisioned as a service that acts as a mediator between institutional or end-user applications and a variety of 3rd party storage services. The purpose of the service is to provide a trusted intermediary that offers different levels of service toward making digital content (1) durable - meaning it is accessible for long periods of time, and thereby "preserved" and (2) usable - meaning that it can be re-exposed or dynamically transformed to fit within in a variety of application contexts. The core DuraSpace service manages storage and retrieval of content from multiple 3rd party storage providers (commercial "clouds" and enterprise/university "intra-clouds"). In addition, we envision a "chinese menu" of value-add DuraSpace services including preservation-motivated functions (replication of multiple copies, monitoring, reporting, migration) and access motivated functions (possibilities include bulk indexing, media streaming, Fedora/DSpace repositories in cloud, JPEG2000 engine, other TBD).
Update: DuraSpace is now DuraCloud. More information available here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Classics and Cyberinfrastructure

The winter issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly focuses on how digital technologies are transforming classical studies. The conclusion synthesizes a number of the themes raised in this collection of essays and describes the Scaife Digital Library, a distributed collection and method for aggregating content (cf. paragraph 101).Some excerpts:

The center of gravity for intellectual life in every developed or developing society is now digital and humanity has already begun to arrange an infrastructure around that new center (27).

Twenty-first century collections become libraries only insofar as they fulfill the need to provide access over time and across space. Long term preservation and global access are foundational challenges for our new information infrastructure (81).

In the past decade, the academic library system has quietly shifted again. The print libraries of the 19th and 20th century have, in effect, become the archives of the 21st century, as publication and discourse in the most heavily supported disciplines have shifted entirely to a digital medium (84).

We can create now collections that are larger than any Ptolemy or Cleopatra could have imagined for their Alexandria. We have ever more sophisticated services that can analyze and combine these collections in new ways and even to generate the stuff of new knowledge. And the material systems on which these services are based simply did not exist half a century ago and cost 100,000 times less now than they did a quarter century ago. And if the essays published here have focused upon what we can learn from our textual record, these collections capture sound, images, and data that human hands alone can never transcribe. Indeed, the writing on inscriptions, papyri, and manuscripts now appear as images, open for humans to read and machines to analyze, ready to reveal long forgotten aspects of the living world that produced them (125).

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ça n'existe pas

“Actually there's a lot that isn't on the Internet. …” See Eric Jager, “Lost in the Archives”:

Nearly every day I found something new in the archives … Each discovery was a reminder of how much is hidden in the vast yet incomplete archive of the human past—how much has been lost for good and how much, even in the digital age, still depends on the paper, parchment, or papyrus record.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How Not to Celebrate a Sesquicentennial

One of the oldest cultural institutions in Oregon, the Oregon Historical Society (established 1899), is closing its research library. This year is the 150th anniversary of Oregon’s statehood.

In related unhappy news, one of the oldest cultural institutions in New Jersey, the New Jersey Historical Society (established in 1845), is cutting hours and staffing.

Image: The first printing press in the Pacific Northwest. Press and type in the custody of the OHS.