“One of the issues is how quickly digital information can disappear. We all know the frustration of coming across a dead link on the Internet. The life cycle of digital information is much more volatile than a printed book. We need to be pro-active about trying to preserve this kind of information.”
According to Jake Wallis, Lecturer in Library and Information Management at Charles Sturt University (CSU), “we have this huge proliferation of digital content being created: photographs, blogs, citizen journalism. All of this is valuable. How are we going to make them accessible 100 years into the future?”
CSU’s School of Information Studies recently presented a Digital Preservation Seminar at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. “Given the expertise that we have got in the school, we thought it was worthwhile to look at the issue of digital preservation.
“We have access to cave paintings from thousands of years ago, we have fragments of the Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls and we have medieval texts such as the Book of Kells. Humanity has been able to preserve these cultural artefacts, but at the same time I have floppy discs from ten years ago that I cannot access because the discs do not fit into my computer anymore.”
Of course it is one thing to decide how to preserve digital “artefacts”, but how do we decide what to preserve out of the “huge proliferation of digital content being created”?
Mr Wallis says that is where the National Library comes in. “One of the reasons that we have gone into partnership with the National Library of Australia for this event is because they are recognised internationally for taking a lead in this area.
“They have initiatives such as Pandora, which is all about preserving websites within the Australian domain, so they are taking the lead in creating a framework within which we can make decisions about what kinds of digital information to store for the longer term.”
The preservation of digital information is a huge and pressing problem right across the country, from national institutions to regional libraries, according to Mr Wallis. “Regional libraries for example have a huge wealth of cultural heritage resources related to their local communities that they have to think about preserving over the longer term.
“So as well as talking about preserving digital artefacts, we also discussed taking copies of physical objects that will allow for a record of those objects to be preserved over the longer term.”
Mr Wallis says the seminar is now being talked of as an annual event. “A wide cross section of the professional community told me it was a very rewarding event for them. And we have also had good feedback from other national institutions, not just the National Library but also the National Archives.
“We can collaborate with these bodies to make this a high profile and annual event that will have a regular place on the professional calendar.”