Thursday, August 27, 2015

Google is not the answer: How the digital age imperils history

Google is not the answer: How the digital age imperils history. John Palfrey. Salon.  May 30, 2015.
     We get better at storing digital content, but are not good and preserving our digital history. The problem in brief is that no one is doing enough to select and preserve the bits that really matter.
"One of the great paradoxes of the digital age is that we are producing vastly more information than ever before, but we are not very good at preserving knowledge in digital form for the long haul." Industry is good at creating storage systems but not very good at choosing and preserving the data that matters, and then being able to make it useful in the future. "We are radically underinvesting in the processes and technologies that will allow us to preserve our cultural, literary and scientific records."  We are continuously making progress in how we store our media, and trapping information in lost formats in the process. Obsolescence of unimportant information may, in fact, be a blessing, but not when the lost knowledge has historical significance.

It is possible to transfer information from one format to another; with enough effort and cost, most data can be transferred to formats that can be read today. But different problems come when we create information at such speed and scale.  Most data companies now are for-profit firms that are not in the business of long-term storage. And, unlike universities, libraries and archives, these businesses will probably not be around for hundreds of years. Plus, the amount of important information being created makes it very difficult to create scale-able solutions to curate the meaningful content.

"Today, librarians and archivists are not involved enough in selecting and preserving knowledge in born-digital formats, nor in developing the technologies that will be essential to ensuring interoperability over time. Librarians and archivists do not have the support or, in many cases, the skills they need to play the central role in preserving our culture in digital format." The Government Accountability Office even criticized the Library of Congress for its information technology practices:  “Library of Congress: Strong Leadership Needed to Address Serious Information Technology Management Weaknesses.”

"The deeper problem behind the problem of digital preservation is that we undervalue our libraries and archives." We under-invest in them in them in an important time as we move from an analog society to a digital one. "If we fail to support libraries in developing new systems, those who follow us will have ample reason to be angry at our lack of foresight."

"If we don’t address our underinvestment in libraries and archives, we will have too much information we don’t need and too little of the knowledge we do."

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