Forget digital preservation; it’s paper we need!

I was amused by an article in the July/August 2007 edition of Information World Review regarding the problems caused by (lack of) digital preservation of e-documents at the National Archives (TNA) – though I should add the intention of the article was not to amuse.

It seems there are problems accessing data created in legacy versions of Microsoft systems, though I wasn’t entirely sure if this was because of the medium used to store the data (I think most people would struggle to get at the contents of a 51/4 inch diskette these days), or the software application itself (surely Word97 is not yet obsolete?). However, as the article points out, the objective is to make “digital data as resilient as paper”. And anyone who’s spilt coffee on the printout of that latest policy statement knows exactly how resilient paper is!

Ah yes, I remember how we were once told that CD-ROMS were virtually indestructible, and that preservation of the data was guaranteed in perpetuity. I guess anyone who’s tried to rebuild software on a malfunctioning PC using the original manufacturer’s CD-ROMS can testify to this being a myth.

I’m reminded of a quote from a senior executive at the old Sperry Rand Corporation (now Unisys) when questioned about the longevity and integrity of digital data on Sperry’s (circa 1960) drum storage technology. The riposte was “it will last indefinitely, or 5 years, whichever is the sooner”. It seems we still haven’t cracked this little nut!

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