Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Saving" collections by digitizing them (disaster recovery)

Digitizing materials does not automatically preserve them, although they may be handled less. It does, however, preserve the information that the materials contained. For example, if you digitize a book, you have the information it contained in an electronic format. If you then lose the book, you can still refer to the electronic version.

We know that Katrina and her wake affected many collections. Some are likely totally destroyed while others -- we hope -- can be restored to some resemblance of their former glory. If the materials were digitized, then there is hope that those images might be retrieved and serve as important surrogates for items that have been lost or damaged. Unfortunately, often those digitized materials are on servers in the same area as the original items. Katrina and other disasters demonstrate that there is a need to keep the digital versions (or one copy of the digital versions) in another region. By keeping the two in different geographic regions, one version has a higher chance of being spared by a disaster.

Now is the time to step back -- pause -- and think about your digitized materials, their storage and quality.
  • Have you stored a version off-site?
  • Is a version someplace that is fire-proof and flood-proof?
  • If your servers fail, can you bring a version of your collection online from another site?
  • If you lose the original items, are your digitized materials of high enough quality to serve as good surrogates?


Dennis Moser said...

LOCKSS: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. Although LOCKSS may not be the solution, in this case (I know there is an effort to make LOCKSS work as a means of distributing collecctions, but it isn't getting the press that it might deserve).

Of course, digitization as a means of preservation is really most obvious when we talk about special and archival collections, since there is no redundancy of the originals in many cases. The decision to digitize such collections is reminiscent of medical triage and with the disaster that is New Orleans, an all too-apt metaphor.

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