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Rothenberg: Ensuring Digital Longevity 2011/08/13

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records.
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Rothenberg “Ensuring Longevity Digital information”

This is a seminal essay from 1999, which merits occasional
and regular re-readings. . . .  

“The year is 2045, and my grandchildren (as yet unborn) are
exploring the attic of my house (as
yet unbought). They find
a letter dated 1995 and a CD-ROM (compact disk). The letter claims
that the disk contains a document that provides the key to
obtaining my fortune (as yet unearned).
My grandchildren are
understandably excited, but they have never seen a CD before—
except in old movies—and even if they can somehow find a suitable
disk drive, how will they run the
software necessary to interpret
the information on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital

This scenario questions the future of our computer-based
digital documents, which are rapidly replacing their
paper counterparts. It is widely accepted that
information technology is revolutionizing our concepts
of documents and records in an upheaval at least as
great as the introduction of printing, if not of writing
itself. The current generation of digital records
therefore has unique historical significance; yet our
digital documents are far more fragile than paper. In
fact, the record of the entire present period of history
is in jeopardy. The content and historical value of
many governmental, organizational, legal, financial,
and technical records, scientific databases, and personal
documents may be irretrievably lost to future generations
if we do not take steps to preserve them.


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