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Chris Rushbridge in Ariadne, February 2006

http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue46/rusbridge/intro.html, accessed 19 Dec 07.

Rushbridge thinks that the digital preservation case has been over-argued, which has led to a backlash, and has also been counterproductive in that it makes digital preservation look far more expensive than it actually is; so no one then pays for it.

File format change: Rushbridge challenges people to actually think of an old commercial file format which is genuinely unreadable today, rather than simply “obsolete”, which tends to be a euphemism for “difficult to retrieve.” Rushbridge defines unreadable as ‘total loss of information content,’ rather than just a partial loss. As far as I know, no one’s met his challenge. (File formats created for specific problems, or for devices like cameras, do indeed get unreadable quickly.) There is a perception that files are unreadable but that is just a perception. File formats have actually stabilised over the years, as the infomation revolution sorts itself out.

Migration: rather than every 3-5 years, this might only need to be done every 10-15 years. So it’s cheaper than we initially thought.

Fidelity: because there is no way of knowing what the future designated communities will actually be interested in, there is pressure to keep all aspects of a record, just in case. This is very expensive, so it leads to less funding, and fewer things preserved. So Rushbridge is in favour of dessicated formats, limiting the documents just to reduced sets of significant properties, but which are much easier to preserve. But keep the original bitstream as well. So, anyone who is just after data can see the desiccated format, and be happy, while the scholars after more exact properties can put the effort in to recapture the full functionality (and they are the ones who pay for it). It means you still have to keep good documentation and metadata. AA: seems a bit like our CALS policy, though I need to add a bit about keeping the original bitstream.

Costs: digital preservation is cheaper than paper [this is like my Domesday book example]. All preservation is expensive, but digital only seems expensive because it is new, and is not yet costed into anything. Paper archives and libraries are costed, and we have grown used to the costs. The biggest single problem in digital preservation is money, and that’s partly because it is short-term project funded. Also, we need to spend the money wisely. If we think in terms of 1000 years, then we end up paying loads on a handful of documents, so we lose more. Perhaps we should just think about the next generation, instead.

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