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Who is the (Digital) Keeper of Record

Some time in the early '90s, when I was a reporter for a local newspaper, we had a 6-inch snow fall over night. Not a record-breaker, but schools and government offices were closed the next day and, at the time I slid into the newspaper's parking lot, most of the arterial roads had yet to be cleaned. My first assignment of the morning? To get back into my car, find local residents shoveling their driveways and ask them what they thought about the snow fall.

I was incensed. "Are you kidding me?!" I could understand that request if we were working for a TV news station and I was expected to stand in the blizzard as it was happening. But, due to publication schedules, the article wouldn't even appear until two days after the storm.

My editor was nonplussed. "The newspaper is the keeper of record," he said. "Fifty or a hundred years from now a historian or a high school student working on an essay will need to know about the news and events that are happening now. Part of our job is to provide a printed history of today's events for future generations."

This is not a diatribe on the (alleged) demise of newspapers, but rather a warning of the dangers of losing our history as time and technologies progress.

The first comprehensive study of the preservation of sound recordings in the US Library of Congress found that found that many historical recordings have already been lost. Some of the earliest radio shows that featured Duke Ellington and Bing Crosby are gone. Sports games, news events…those will be preserved in print, microfilm and microfiche for years to come, but the doleful sounds of Crosby's early prime time shows are gone forever.

Now, as digital recordings make the audio and video workflows easier, they must be constantly maintained and backed up as technology changes. Analog tapes can last 150 years, provided they are properly stored. How long can a CD-R last? According a co-author of the Library of Congress Study, the files can start to disappear in three to five years. (Obviously, these people weren't using Taiyo Yuden/JVC discs.) And, as we've said in previous newsletter articles, if a CD or DVD "goes bad," the entire contents in lost. With old analog tapes, if a sector goes bad, someone with right amount of skill, patience and training, can piece together the remaining tape to preserve the remaining footage.

What happens to today's historic events as we move toward storing our data on hard drives or on virtual servers? Hard drives are not an archival medium. They must be "exercised" regularly to keep them in working order and they have a planned life expectancy of no more than 5 years.

I cannot help but worry about those faceless high school students and historians of the future. My concern is not the concern of a media seller. (After all, we sell hard drives, too and some very good ones at that.) My concern comes from once being charged with recording history for future generations.

Who becomes the keeper of record when we, as companies and individuals, stop planning for long-term archival storage?

This entry was an editorial piece written by eMarketing Coordinator Stacy Strunk. Her opinions are not necessarily the official opinions of Polyline Corp. (But we find them darned intriguing.)

1 comment:

Rex A. Chinn said...

I also wonder how future generations will play back today's files after the play back equiipment is gone and the software algorithms are forgotten.