Caroline Arms on digital formats for long-term preservation

My guest for this week’s Perspectives show is Caroline Arms, a digital preservation pioneer at the Library of Congress. She’s a leading student and promoter of digital formats for long-term preservation.

It was fascinating to hear her take on the interplay between the reality of market forces and the interests of cultural preservation. From the Library’s perspective, an important format is one that is both disclosed (i.e., openly specified) and widely adopted. The Library has few illusions about its ability to influence adoption, but it does participate in standardization efforts such as PDF/A and Office Open XML.

Caroline joined the Library of Congress in 1995 to work on the American Memory project, and she well understands that our memories are not only represented by commercially-published content, but also by personally-created content such as photographs and diaries. When that content is paper-based, it tends to survive benign neglect. But digital content doesn’t survive benign neglect, and the Library is thinking hard about the challenge that presents for the photographs and diaries we’re creating from now on.

Yesterday’s proposal for an association of URL-shortening services was motivated by that same challenge. It’s overwhelming to think about tackling the URL persistence problem in a general way, although there’s good progress being made in particular domains, notably scholarly publishing. But it strikes me that URL-shortening is an area where we could bootstrap a scheme that would provide at least some assurance of continuity, in a way that would be evident to a lot of mainstream users. It wouldn’t solve a major problem, but that’s actually the point. We need to pluck some low-hanging fruit, and start to raise expectations about the persistence of the digital resources we’re all creating.

2 Comments

  1. There’s some progress being made on the academic front, but I’m real resistant to the idea that chucking it all in database behind one domain will solve anything.

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