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Test of Time

“It has been forty years since the first moon landing and thirty years since the first consumer computers and word processors. Over this time, we have come to rely absolutely on information in digital form. The human generations give us perspective. We can recognise the enduring value of digital information, but also how brittle and short-lived it can be.” Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Library Technology, British Library and Programme Director, Planets.

Access to digital data is under continual threat. Exposed to rapid advances in technology, the formats in which data is stored, or the software or hardware that make it possible to read it, become out-of-date.

While it may be possible to read information stored on paper in hundreds of years, it may not be possible to access information held in digital formats within decades.

Digital preservation involves a set of activities that ensure continued access to digital information and records over time. Information may be born-digital as web-sites, e-books and journals, or information that has been made digital eg. by scanning printed books, newspapers, journals or manuscripts.

This requires, first of all, secure physical storage of the 0s and 1s. However, it it also requires data to either be transformed into new and up-to-date formats, or the programme and environment in which it was created to be replicated.

It also requires information to be documented to describe the object and the relationships to technology to view it so that people can access it in future.

The process is complex and time-consuming.