News article: "Unable to Repeat the Past" (Los Angeles Times)
From time to time I'll post interesting news articles that relate to "information agencies and their environment" to our course weblog. (You should feel free to do the same, as all students are authorized to post on our weblog's "front page".) This morning someone pointed me to a Los Angeles Times article entitled Unable to Repeat the Past which talks about the risks we information professionals take when we trust long-term data storage to digital methods:
Digital storage methods, although vastly more capacious than the paper they are rapidly replacing, have proved the softest wax. Heat and humidity can destroy computer disks and tapes in as little as a year. Computers can break down and software often becomes unusable in a few years. A storage format can quickly become obsolete, making the information it holds effectively inaccessible.
No one has compiled an inventory of lost records, but archivists regularly stumble upon worrisome examples. Reports detailing the military's spraying of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam, needed for research and medical care, were obliterated. Census data from the 1960s through 1980s disappeared. A multitude of electronic voting records vanished without a trace.
Records considered at risk by the National Archives include diagrams and maps needed to secure the nuclear stockpile and policy documents used to inform partners in the war on terror. Much like global warming, the archive problem emerged suddenly, its effects remain murky and the brunt of its effect will be felt by future generations. The era we are living in could become a gap in history.
'If we don't solve the problem, our time will not become part of the past,' said Kenneth Thibodaux, who directs electronic records preservation for the National Archives. 'It will largely vanish.'
Anyone care to comment? (The full article continues at the link above.)