What is the Future for Electronic Records?

Think that preserving family photographs or Aunt Jane’s journal electronically is as easy as scanning it and saving it to a disk?  Do you think that it will be there in 20 years, easy to access and always available? 

 Think again.

 Many image scientists say that people 20 – 30 years from now will look back on this time as the “Dark Ages” of information, with few records surviving into the future.  Born-digital records and digitized paper records involve huge issues such as image quality and record integrity, obsolescence and failure of technology, and the ever-present challenge of funding. 

 Salt Lake County Archives staff recently attended a conference in Salt Lake City entitled “Archiving 2011.”  This is an international conference held annually, and next year it will be in Copenhagen.  This conference brings image scientists, electronic engineers, archivists, and PhD students together from around the world to discuss “preservation strategies and imaging technologies for cultural heritage institutions and memory organizations.” 

 Some of the issues discussed included: 

  1. When technology becomes obsolete:  Will there be a way to read that disk 30 years from now?
  2. Migration of data: Continual migration to new technologies to maintain data needs to be planned years ahead. 
  3. Storage failures: Records are lost because of hard drive crashes before backup to a secondary source; CDs, DVDs, disks, etc also fail.  Scientists estimate flash drives to be viable for approximately 10-12 years, and optical discs (CD, DVD) to last from 1-25 years.  Even magnetic tape, which is the option that many institutions are currently using because of cost, only survives so long and is susceptible to failures.   
  4. What is the quality of the image to begin with? Proper image and color calibration for digitization was discussed at length during this conference.  Currently, Europe uses one set of standards and the U.S. uses another.  There is a call for collaboration worldwide to create and use one set of guidelines to ensure the survival of information. 
  5. Challenges of trying to permanently preserve information of an inherently transient nature (i.e. blogs).
  6. Money: Digitization projects involve large amounts of money for equipment and skilled staff.  Small institutions simply cannot afford it.  
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One Response to What is the Future for Electronic Records?

  1. luke says:

    If it is worth keeping it is worth printing. That is my motto for long-term records. No no mater how I look at the situation of today, high tech is still only useful for immediate communication and data processing. It is not a viable long-term solution for information storage. There is a constant cost in energy to maintain and access information in electronic form. At some point the machine wear out, the energy requirement becomes unsustainable and we either have to print dead tree copies or delete stuff. I know the argument is against paper but paper can and is made from a wide variety of plant material. also, no energy is required, except human to access a paper record once it is at its final destination.

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