February 15, 2017.
A very interesting post about papers donated to the University of Notre Dame in 1996, and how the library has been dealing with the collection. The collection includes a survey that is possibly “the largest, single, data gathering event ever performed with regard to women religious”. The data was stored on “seven reels of 800 dpi tapes, ]rec]120, blocksize 12,000, approximately 810,000 records in all”, extracted from the original EBCDIC tapes and converted to newer formats in 1996, transferred to CDs then to computer hard disk in 1999. The 1967 survey data has fortunately survived the format migrations. Some other data in the collection had been lost: at least 3 tape reels could not be read during the 1996 migration exercise and at least one file could not be copied in 1999. "The survey data has not been used for 18 years since 1996 – nicely and appropriately described by the colleague as “a lifetime in the digital world”.
The dataset has now been reformatted and stored in .dta and .csv formats. We also recreated the “codebook” of all the questions and pre-defined responses and put in one document. The dataset is in the best possible format for re-use. The post gives examples of digital collection items that require intervention or preservation actions. A few takeaways:
- Active use seems to be the best way for monitoring and detecting digital obsolescence.
- Metadata really is essential. Without the notes, finding aid and scanned codebook, we would not be able to make sense of the dataset.
- Do not wait a lifetime to think about digital preservation.
- The longer you wait, the more difficult it gets.