There’s a growing body of literature that supports the idea of distributed digital repositories as the best way to assure long-term preservation of digital information. Take for example this really important article that was just published: “Requirements for Digital Preservation Systems: A Bottom-Up Approach” by David S. H. Rosenthal, Thomas S. Robertson, Tom Lipkis, Vicky Reich, and Seth Morabito at the LOCKSS Project, Stanford University Libraries.
The authors describe the various threats that can happen to digital preservation repositories (failure of storage media, hardware, software, operator error, natural disaster, external attack, economic failure, organizational failure, etc). They go on to suggest strategies to address these issues, such as replication, transparency, migration, diversity, audit, sloth (yes, sloth), and others. Their recommendations describe a P2P system like LOCKSS, with many systems geographically dispersed, many points of ingest, many organizations under different budgets. If this had been written 20 years ago, they’d be describing the FDLP!
Please don’t let the technical nature of the article scare you away. This one’s really important!
An essential precaution against the software of a digital preservation system becoming obsolete is that it be preserved with at least as much care as the information which it is preserving. Open source makes this easy. [p. 5]
Systems with few replicas have to be very careful with each of them, using very reliable enterprise-grade storage hardware and expensive off-line backup procedures. Systems with many replicas can be less careful with each of them, for example using consumer-grade hardware and depending on other replicas to repair damage rather than using off-line backups. Our experience is that the per replica cost can in this way be reduced enough to outweigh the increased number of replicas [p. 9]
[Thanks Roy Tennant and Current Cites, September, 2005]
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