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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Preserving for the Future

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 8, 2009


The preservation of information for the future is a concern of all librarians.


That concern has been made more difficult with the explosion of online digital products, CDs and DVDs with information and images.


Which is best and what format lasts the longest?


Genealogists, archivists, and librarians are debating the issue and researching the different storage methods available today.


Experience has shown that color photographs have a shorter lifespan than black and white photographs.


Color photos taken to document government activities of the 1950s and 1960s are fading away rapidly, unless re-photographed.


On the other hand, color slides from the same time period are crisp and sharp in contrast due to a difference in the chemical formulary of the two photographic products.


Long-playing records have a longer shelf life, if properly handled and preserved, than recording tape or CDs.


Aside from the physical issues of information formats, a growing issue is the availability of the proper equipment to "read" the information on a particular format.


Information from computer tapes of the 1970s are commonly lost to history, unless a firm can extract the data as there is no computer equipment able to "read" the tapes.


So, as information is placed in these new digital formats, we need to be sure that there is equipment available that can extract that information.


This means that data will need to be moved from an old format to a new format.


That means that these new formats of information provide little if any cost savings over the standard printed-paper.


There are also the annual costs of software upgrades, new computer equipment, and online charges for data transfer.


In the meantime, the old book sits on the shelf quietly with no costs for upgrade beyond a periodic dusting and repair of the spine.


Looking at the library of the future, it will certainly be composed of more databases replacing many print media.


At the same time, vast files of microfilm will remain in that format due to the high costs of transferring and maintaining them in a new format.


Depending on databases offers the assumption that there will always be funds for annual renewal and the bandwidth to access them.


Any library's plan for the future must include a constant review of their information formats for the likelihood that the data will need moved to a new format.


That plan may include the traditional paper publications in an archive, or a means to reproduce those books from a master source.


Keeping pace with technology will be essential to prevent a format in the collection that can no longer be "read" since the equipment is no longer available.


To answer the question, what is the most stable environment to preserve information, tape, microfilm, or digital?


The answer, pencil on paper.