Internet Archive archives digital texts… on paper. WTF.

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The Internet Archive reports on its blog that it is concerned about the original copies of books being digitized for libraries and other institutions being discarded or moved to “off site repositories” when they are returned.  Their solution is to take these original books and archive them for future use:

A reason to preserve the physical book that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about  the digital version, the original can be examined. A seed bank such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen as an authoritative and safe version of crops we are growing. Saving physical copies of digitized books might at least be seen in a similar light as an authoritative and safe copy that may be called upon in the future.

While I applaud Internet Archive’s dedication to archiving and storage of backup material, I say they’re taking a step backward here. You don’t preserve backups of microfiche newspaper articles by saving the newspapers. Likewise, storing digital documents on paper is wasteful and energy/storage-demanding; a single hard drive could save everything in those shipping containers depicted above (not to mention the headache of accessing a single book stored therein).

What the IA ought to be doing is working to improve and use digital storage and backup systems. Yes, they are not perfect as-is; but considering how easy it is to back up a single hard drive in multiple redundant systems, all of which can be designed to cross-check each other to eliminate “electron-flipping,” you could accomplish the same thing with just four drives placed in four safe sites. Want to be safer? Try eight drives.

Let’s face it: Paper is far from the perfect storage medium, as those shipping containers ably illustrate. Let’s be sensible about archiving and storage, and not let romanticism over paper lead us astray.

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3 thoughts on “Internet Archive archives digital texts… on paper. WTF.

  1. A paper backup is good to have though because paper (if it is acid free–newspaper isn’t really a good analogy because it deteriorates very quickly) lasts a long time, and can be easily copied. Digital file formats change rather often, so everything has to be reconverted over and over again as technology changes. Think, for example, of what computers were like ten years ago. Imagine having a storeroom full of now-useless floppy disks–to retrieve that information now, you’d need an external drive to even read the information stored on them. In 20 years, today’s hard drives are going to be laughable compared to what’s standard, and you’ll probably have to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to access any data that’s on it.

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  2. Actually, producing a drive to read old floppies is child’s play… especially if, like me, you’d done that back when floppies were still being used, and archived them to the newer medium. Advanced planning is the trick, having the foresight to archive files before the mediums become obsolete… this is what’s needed now, and in digital mediums, it is much easier to transfer files from one digital source to another.

    Compare that to the process of copying paper: Even the fastest photocopying equipment performs like a tortoise against the light beam speed of digital file transfer.

    As I said, digital archiving does need improvement to make it more durable over time. But that’s no reason to turn back to paper… it’s a reason to move forward and improve digital systems.

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  3. “Photovoltaics: Design and Installation Manual” has all the essential basics for disigning and building a system.
    It covers serial and parallel circuitry and other electrical aspects necessary to the construction of a photovoltaic system.
    The reading is a little dry, but that is the nature of the subject,
    isn’t it?

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