Digital files are tragic and temporary. Their short life span is only beaten by goldfish. It doesn’t take much to make data on a hard drive, floppy disk, CD/DVD, thumb drive, etc. unusable, inaccessible, or corrupted. David Pogue in the NY Times does a nice little interview with Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. I highly recommend the article to the layperson and tech-savvy alike.
Libraries that offer CDs and DVDs face this problem day in and day out. I don’t know how often a library has to reorder scratched CDs and DVDs but in my public library experience damaged media flowed into the library like the Red Sea over the Egyptian soldiers. Would it be cost effective to make archival backups and what legal/copyright implications would a public library face if they had a damaged CD and began to check out a copy? My law library wants to save their historical memories that are currently stored on VHS, audio tapes, CDs, DVDs, book ledgers, photos, etc. In our case cost and practically will be the determining factors for creating backups and data conversion to other physical and digital formats.
There are more problems than solutions at this point but we can all benefit from simple things like having multiple back-up mediums, be it: external and internal hard drives, CD/DVD copies, online storage, tape drives, etc. However, the process is cumbersome, expensive, and time consuming. It may boil down to how important those family photos and movies really are or that DVD copy of Fletch. In short, is it worth trying to save and pass down? What about blogs- the record of our lives? If we care about them, do we print them to acid-free paper and store them in multiple digital document formats? Or do we take our chances with the test of time? I guess, if I come up with something really witty and/or insightful I’ll first twitter it then etch it into stone.