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jsa1.jpgArticle by Steve Bailey of JISC, in JSA vol 28 no 2, October 2007.

Bailey says that much of the debate about digi pres has been led by technical issues, such as media degradation, bitstream preservation, and emulation vs migration arguments. “Far less attention has been paid to developing technologies for deciding what of the vast volume of information we create must be kept, for what purpose, and for how long” (p119). This means that selection and appraisal becomes crucial. You would think that, in a world where massive volumes of information are created, the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff woud be valued, but this does not seem to be the case. Indeed the trend seems to be to keep everything, and Google for what you want, rather than classify and file. Bailey suggests that this sounds the death-knell for EDRM systems.

He also points out that archivists have long had a problem with physical preservation anyway. Paper and parchment preservation problems are dealt with by conservators, not by archivists, few of whom understand the hard science of the subject. And even before e-records were invented archivists had decided to deal with non-direct media, such as video or sound recordings, by treating them as “special collections” cases. “Digital records are perhaps the latest and most extreme example of our reluctance to get our professional hands dirty (p119).” The difference now is that digital records are simply too ubiquitous for archivists to fob off onto someone else.

Why preserving the written word is difficult

What’s called the Domesday Book was originally, back in 1086, a collection of hundreds of sheets of parchment, subsequently bound into two separate volumes called Little Domesday, which contained all the sheets for the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, and Great Domesday, which contained all the others under Norman rule at the time. It has been calculated that about 200 sheep would have been stunned and killed to create the parchment sheets for Great Domesday. The pelts were removed from the dead animals, soaked in lime, dehaired, then stretched out on a wooden frame so that they could be washed and scraped with a pumice block, to remove much grease and fat as possible. It was a long and careful job and the quality of the resulting work owed much to the skills of the craftsmen involved. The parchments for Domesday were very carefully prepared indeed.

But the Norman government did not leave the matter there. Read the rest of this entry »