Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prepared for Loss

I have floppy discs in my house that are genuinely floppy.  I probably haven’t owned a computer that could play them for over twenty years.  Nevertheless, I saved these floppy discs and now have no idea what’s on them.  If, by chance, I ever find an antique computer that can play them, I have no assurance that the data would still be accessible.

Built-in obsolescence seems to be the nature of the world.  Just as we’re not wired to last forever, neither are computers and all their electronic relatives.  At some point, it’s probably best to accept this – and learn to work around it.

I asked Tom Clareson , Senior Consultant for New Initiatives at LYRASIS, and Leigh A. Grinstead, Digital Services Consultant at LYRASIS, for advice about how to address issues of obsolescence.  I think what I really wanted was a strategy for keeping my preserved records up-to-date, accessible, and safe.  Their response is actually fairly hopeful, but it looks like it will take some conscientious effort, too.

“Museums, libraries and archives have tried to keep appropriate playback equipment in working order and most institutions are unable to do it.  Keeping your old digital cameras and the data cards on hand is one approach, but hardware manufacturers deliberately build in obsolescence.  The best plan is to keep backup copies in multiple formats, send a copy to a family member in a different region of the country, store a copy on your hard drive at home, and/or, for your most important items, keep them on a drive in a safe deposit box, as well as backups in ‘the Cloud.’

“You should attempt to keep both your software and operating systems up-to-date.  Keeping your images in multiple formats, both electronic and print for example, may also be helpful.

Also, it is wise to plan ahead for potential disasters.  This spring, we have seen so many examples of entire communities affected by floods, storms, and devastating tornadoes.  In instances like this, people who have organized their materials and electronically saved them off-site using one of ‘the Cloud’ services (like Dropbox) will be able to access their materials again, even if all their computers, phones, still cameras, video cameras, and scrapbooks are gone.”

For additional information on digital preservation, Leigh reminds us of one of the very best sites on the web:  “The Library of Congress has been working in the area of digital preservation for a long time and has been developing materials for the public some of which are described at their Digital Preservation page.  During preservation week (the first week of May) they presented a Preserving Your Personal Digital Memories webinar that was very interesting and worth visiting.”

© 2011 Lee Price

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