17.351 further reservations on preservation

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Oct 28 2003 - 03:12:07 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 351.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2003 07:59:09 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: further reservations on preservation

    Let us assume for the purposes of argument that digital preservation proves
    impractical in the long term, let us say (if a reason is needed) for the
    reason that porting all the world's data from system to system, format to
    format, metalanguage to metalanguage, is too great a task. Not impossible,
    simply beyond the resources of all but the richest governments and
    multinational companies. What, then, would be our situation? With respect
    to research we would have an agile medium in which to experiment and
    publish freely our short-term results, and a stable, very slow-moving
    medium in which to communicate and document matters so important that we
    considered them worthy of outlasting us.

    Let's be honest with ourselves. What that we do really deserves to last?
    Some of it, yes, perhaps from some of us. I have in mind not only that a
    great deal of what we do is not all that valuable, not only that most if
    not all of what we have done is experimental, but also that the present
    moment is what we have, and that we are teachers.

    Helen Tibbo, in "Archival Perspectives on the Emerging Digital Library",
    Communications of the ACM 44.5 (2001): 69-70, says that in general
    archivists save about 5% of the original bulk of a collection; she points
    out that the materials handled by librarians have already been winnowed via
    review and publication to a significant degree. Saving everything, she
    argues, especially in an era of documentary abundance, means finding
    nothing. So, it would seem, asking how we're going to keep everything the
    digital medium contains is asking the wrong question. Allow me to suggest
    that a much better question is how to employ the media we've got for jobs
    for which they are well suited.



    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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