Session Proposal: Permanence and Digital Media Proposal Valerie Clark

Archives and special collections used to hold documents and books. Then archives expanded to maintain photographs, film, video and sound. These additional materials are less permanent than documents.

After the 1990s or thereabouts, digital media enter the archive. If the great novel of 2001 was written on WordPerfect the software that runs Word Perfect is no longer produced. Today’s Stan Brakhage uses an IPhone. When the next generation of IPhones comes along, can we still watch those movies? What will happen to the digital “rough cuts” of Hollywood movies that aren’t blockbusters? We still have Leonardo’s sketchbooks, but the aging monitors used by Nam June Paik are endangered, even though they are only forty years old.

The preservation of digital media requires emulation and migration. Almost any medium can be preserved on a hard drive but the physical parts of hard drives wear out, and hard drives themselves may become obsolete. The answer may lie in cloud computing, but even then, the motorized parts of servers will wear out. Perhaps there are computer hardware experts here who can help.

Let’s examine the history of knowledge containers, because that’s what servers are. If we use today’s language to describe them, wax and clay tablets are knowledge containers. So are scrolls, palm leaf manuscripts, codices, and folios. They are old technology that was advanced when they were new. In our culture, the book was the preeminent knowledge container.As in the tablet, the scroll, and the codex, function, available means, and serendipity all played a part in the development and adoption of the book. In what ways have function, available means, and serendipity influenced digital media?

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About valerieaclarkny

I have a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science and former careers as a librarian, a paralegal, and a visual artist. My work in archives has involved photography and radio.

3 Responses to Session Proposal: Permanence and Digital Media Proposal Valerie Clark

  1. Excited that you proposed this Valerie as I am teaching a course on Media and Materiality that addresses some of these questions this fall. Will hope to drop in and participate if I can get some time during the hectic weekend!

  2. Your thoughts on this are timely. When I worked as public historian at a large NY archive, I was told repeatedly over many years by different officials that time-based media (film, video, digitally based moving images) were not part of collections and could not be because of problems with the format changes and lack of money for continually updating and migration. This of course was slightly ironic, because in fact, items that were time-based media did in fact end up in collections due to the nature of 20th and 21st century events which were being documented. Thus, when September 11th occured, many items on film came into collections, without a real policy on how to deal with the issues you raise. Naturally, for that historical repository like many, if not most archives, the reality had exceeded the institution’s capacity to plan and deal with the media that were arriving on the doorstep. You pose a widespread planning issue that is being wrestled with at different levels, and will not be solved piecemeal at each collecting institution. Glad you are talking about it.

  3. Well, thank you. I worked with some 9/11 slides as an intern in 2010, and they were coming loose in their mounts. Even still photos need temperature and humidity control that is not supplied due to expense, The easiest thing is to scan and digitize them, but then hard drives will wear out…
    I was hoping to find others concerned with this issue. Maybe there will be standardization of hardware and eventually there will be a little piece of metal in a hard drive that can be swapped out, as books can be re-bound. Cloud computing gets a lot of attention, but there has to be a server somewhere, and servers aren’t forever, either. I was hoping to meet some hardware geeks, because a hardware solution would be nice.
    Looking forward to THATCamp.

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