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Subject: Preservation of electronic formats

Preservation of electronic formats

From: Peter Graham <psgraham>
Date: Friday, August 20, 1993
Pete Jermann last week sent a report on "The Preservation of Electronic
Formats", as presented by Dr. Michael Spring at the Preservation
Intensive Institute at Pittsburgh, to this group.  It was a very good
summary, clearly very accurate, of what was probably a most interesting
presentation.  Let me if I may add a couple of points (and I'll refer to
Spring, tho it's obviously from Jermann's notes):

1.  Spring notes the importance for specialists of accounting for three
kinds of potential loss:  hardware obsolescence, software obsolescence,
and decay of the medium.  I call readers' attention to the publication
from the Commission on Preservation and Access on this topic: Michael
Lesk, Michael Lesk, Preservation of New Technology:  A Report of the
Technology Assessment Advisory Committee to the Commission on
Preservation and Access (Washington, DC:  CPA, 1992) (about 20 pp.,
about $5).

Lesk covers much the same materials (in fact Jermann's summary is in
some ways clearer) but in more detail and with more references.  People
interested in this topic should have Lesk's document to hand and should
be aware of very strong Commission activity in this area.

2.  There is another kind of preservation necessary for electronic
information:  intellectual preservation, or authentication, or
preservation of the bit pattern itself.  We need guarantees that the
encoded pattern referred to by one person (perhaps the author, perhaps a
later reader) is the same one that another reader wants to use, and that
it has not been changed due to accident or intent (whether well-meant or
fraudulent).  There are cryptographically-based means of determining
this which are coming into availability; I refer to them in my
"Preserving the Intellectual Record and the Electronic Environment,"
Scholarly Communication and the Electronic  Environment:  Issues for
Research Libraries, ed. Robert Sidney Martin (Chicago:  ALA, 1993), p.
71-101.   (Also published as:  "Intellectual Preservation and the
Electronic Environment," After the Electronic Revolution, Will You Be
the First to Go?: Proceedings of the 1992 Association for Library
Collections and Technical Services President's Program, ed. Arnold
Hirshon (Chicago: ALA, 1993), p. 18-38.)

The method of present interest is known as digital time-stamping, and
has been produced by researchers at Bellcore.  More information can be
found in the cited articles or from me directly.  I think it is
important for librarians -- and especially preservation specialists --
to take account of the fundamental difference in our relation to
electronic information:  the artifact and the information are no longer
one, and it is no longer sufficient simply to preserve the artifact in
order to save the information. --pg

Peter Graham
Rutgers University Libraries
169 College Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08903

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:21
                  Distributed: Friday, August 20, 1993
                        Message Id: cdl-7-21-004
Received on Friday, 20 August, 1993

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