Friday, July 8, 2011

Re: Technology and catalogers (was XML...)

Posting to Autocat

On 08/07/2011 00:23, Kevin M Randall wrote:
<snip>
Aaron Kuperman wrote:
MARC is a format - it isn't a physical thing.

Floppy disks were hardware.

Formats tend to be immortal, [...]
I would definitely disagree here. Formats are just as "mortal" as the media on which they are carried. The lifespan of a format may be longer than that of the carrier--or, in some cases, it may well be shorter. The inability to access data contained in an obsolete format is just as real a problem as the inability to access data contained in an obsolete carrier. (Think of files you may have, copied over from 8-inch floppy to 5.25-inch floppy to 3.5-inch floppy to Zip disk to flash drive to the "cloud", that were created in early word processing or spreadsheet programs, and now can't be read because you don't have software that can do anything with them.)

However, I don't think we need to start worrying about the loss of MARC functionality just yet...
</snip>
There are lots of examples of obsolete file formats. There is at least one initiative to deal with this however: "Keeping Emulation Environments Portable" http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7886754.stm The article states: "Britain's National Archive estimates that it holds enough information to fill about 580,000 encyclopaedias in formats that are no longer widely available."

Emulating the original program plus emulating the operating system that program used at the time seems to be a huge job. Yet, I quote from the BBC article: "Dr Anderson said emulation was more workable in the long term than the usual method of preserving old files which involves migrating information on to new formats with its attendant risks of data degradation and corruption."

I have suggested that in the future, there will be a job called something like a "Digital Archaeologist" whose task it will be to find and rework/revivify old formats (both physical and digital) to get some obsolete information tool to function again.

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