Here’s a good piece in the Boston Globe, “The race to preserve disappearing data”. While primarily focusing on the film industry, it also mentions link rot, disappearing government information in the form of Supreme Court decisions and other issues on which government information librarians should be working. I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again, when documents librarians focus on digitizing historic government publications, they ignore the far greater danger of the disappearance of born-digital government information. We need the entire documents community to step up and work on the issue of born-digital collection development lest we risk becoming a “digital dark age.”
The problem of preservation is not unique to the film industry. It spans the digital artifacts of our age — from photos to music to scientific research data. One study of more than 500 biology papers published from a 20-year span found that as time passes, less original research data can be found; it suggested that up to 80 percent of raw data collected for studies in the early 1990s is lost. A crucial virtue of science is that researchers can reproduce findings or correct them over time by reevaluating original data. Fields from epidemiology to education to climate change require records that span decades or longer.
Lost data also plagues the legal world. A 2013 study of Supreme Court decisions by Harvard University Law School professors found that so-called link rot is eroding intellectual foundations of legal scholarship: Nearly half of all Supreme Court decisions up to that date and more than 70 percent of law journals from 1999 to 2012 referred to Web pages that no longer existed…
…What was once a race to rescue information from going-extinct media (think of old files trapped on floppy disks) has morphed into a mounting need to copy and curate massive troves of data, says Dr. David Rosenthal, the founder of a library-led digital preservation network run out of the Stanford University libraries. Digital information decays over time and files grow corrupt from “bit rot,” which Rosenthal says is best fended off by creating copies of data in multiple virtual and physical locations…
…“Digital preservation is essentially a hot potato problem, where everyone wants to pass responsibility onward,” said Berman, also a professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She notes that in the private sector, companies invest in preserving data that give them a competitive advantage. The larger challenge is preserving those digital artifacts that have broad societal relevance for the future, but no urgent private interest.
Publicly funded archives such as the National Archives and those supported by federal R&D agencies fulfill only a fraction of the preservation needed to pass on society’s knowledge to the future. Less than 1 percent of the Library of Congress’s 1.4 million archived videos and film reels were born digital. While the Library of Congress can preserve digital films if filmmakers share their unencrypted files, less than a dozen filmmakers and studios have done so, and the library has yet to preserve a single born-digital feature-length film.
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