Obama Library: Digitization and the Destruction of Historical Records

Digitization of records will be the death of them. I am retired from staff at a major mid-western university, where I worked in IT for the last 25 years of my career. A friend who is still working is heading up a task force right now to try and determine what the university can do to insure that all the records and documents being digitized right now can be read in just ten years from now.

The problem is, technology for storing digitized data and retrieving it and making it human viewable changes so rapidly, that already data from just 20 years ago is often not retrievable, because there is no equipment left to mount and read the storage medium, nor equipment to display the data in human consumable format.

This is not a good idea. The library at my university that is the repository of incunabula and the oldest books since the inventing of the printing press, will still have those books on the shelf for research and review, already 500 or more years old, a hundred years from now, when all the digitized documents and photos stored on hard disks now will be gone, the disks degraded, unreadable, the technology 100 years from now so different we cannot yet conceive of it. The past 30 or so years of history will vanish, just electronic bits that blew away in the wind of time and change.


Author: Ron