Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Can I destroy my originals after I digitize them?

People sometime wonder if they can save room in their collections by destroying the original documents after they have been digitized. Let's consider the implications.
  • What if the digital assets were not created correctly and are problematic? If you have destroyed the originals, then you cannot go back and re-digitize them.
  • What if the digital assets are corrupted or destroyed...and for some reason you cannot use the digital backups? If you have destroyed the originals, again you cannot go back and re-digitize.
  • What if someone wants to see the original item because they want to inspect the paper, ink, etc.? If you've destroyed the original item, then they can't do that.
  • What if you destroy the original item under the assumption that another institution is keeping their copy of the original item? If you do that, recognize that the other institution may decide to get of theirs, leaving only the digital copies for anyone to use.
  • What if you keep only the digital assets, but do not properly maintain and preserve them? Then you may end up with nothing, since digital assets can easily be corrupted and then you'll have nothing (neither version).
If you do not have room for the originals in your collection, consider:
  • Storing them off-site or in compact storage.
  • Donating them to an institution that values the original items.
  • Checking to see if there are other copies available in the world and understand their long-term disposition first before deciding what to do with your original hardcopy materials.
  • Microfilming and digitizing them, then placing the microfilm in an archive. We know that microfilm can last for a long, long time under proper conditions. Microfilm can be read without computer technology. It can be digitized.
The bottom-line is that destroying the originals after digitizing them should not be taken lightly. Really think about the implications. Put yourself 10 - 20 years in the future and think about what the implications of your decision might be. Is destroying the originals a decision that you will regret (or that your successors will regret)?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My experience with hard disk upgrading under existent operating systems is that these operating systems might seem to recognize hard disks correctly when they are bigger than 128GB, while when the amount of data exceeds this about 128GB the system 'simply' continues writing at the start of the disk instead of the rest of it, thus corrupting or even wiping previously stored material. You will not notice this immediately, until when opening some folder you will notice crap information instead of your might be precious files. Then the nightmare really starts. While it is possible to play back corrupted material you will never know it is corrupted already unless you listen to it carefully (a Cyclic Redundancy Check might do as well) which takes a lot of time of course.

Besides, while magnetic tapes seem to be capable of 'remembering' information for about 50 years, with quality deterioration in progress, digital media still need to stand the test (although certain CD-Rs have been proved to fail this already), thus will need 'frequent' attention with verification to be sure.