Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The lifespans of irreplaceable words

Reading Nicholson Baker's Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper for my other MLIS class this semester has been interesting and somewhat heartbreaking; Baker vividly conveys the irreversible loss of historical newspapers and periodicals and the unreliability of microfilm as a backup storage medium. His descriptions of microfilm as an oversold "solution" that risks illegibility, shrinkage, buckling, bubbling, and sticking -- as well as his accurate portrayal of the dizzying text-glide that reading microfilm entails -- make it especially tragic that so many original materials have been destroyed after microfilming. Yet our textbook for this course, Discovering Computers 2009, described microfilm as "inexpensive and [having] the longest life of any storage media," with a "potential life expectancy" of 500 years. (p. 379) How could anyone know that, when the technology hasn't been around nearly that long?

Of course, if you look at the asterisk in the book's Media Life Expectancies table, you see the qualifier "*according to manufacturers of the media". Of course they would make inflated assertions, but Baker's findings prove otherwise. I'm all in support of high-quality digitization of information, but not at the expense of original copies! Have librarians been sold a bill of goods? It seems there should always be space enough somewhere to store original copies, even if not always on handily accessible library shelves. I'm now wondering what other technologies highlighted in our computer textbook could be seducing archivists away from sounder storage methods, or otherwise affecting the longevity or quality of stored information.

1 comment:

ky said...

Glad to see this. offers similar content: The Nambour Chronicle & North Coast Advertiser first published in 1903. Really demonstrates how history is simply indispensable.