Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hard Drive, Catastrophe-Proof Bunker or Peat Bog?

   A couple of interesting items have appeared in the news this week relating to the interests of the people who frequent this blog. The first is that the Internet Archive is setting up a facility to preserve paper books that they have digitised. This relates to some issues covered in the posting Reprise on Google, e-Books, Copyright and All That Jazz. The idea is to have one copy of everything they can get their hands on, not for regular consultation, but as a "seed bank" if needed to check or resurrect digital copies. Take a look at the original article by Brewster Kahle Why Preserve Books? The New Physical Archive of the Internet Archive. There has already been considerable commentary on this posting and some on other blogs, some of it thoughtful, some of it a little nutty. I was slightly intrigued by the putative author who thought that archiving his book would be a breach of copyright. It's going to get a bit rough when authors come knocking on your door to see what you have done with their books.
   It was also of interest to note that the Internet Archive preserves old hard drives which contain digitised material, as well as microfilms. Somewhere along the line, I guess we will find out which of these media survives the best.
   The process was evidently inspired by hearing that some libraries were culling their collections after books had been digitised by Google. Now libraries have always culled, but I guess there might be a critical mass developing out there. It is about one good generation since a huge expansion in universities, and their libraries, and there is an ongoing expansion in the number of books, as well as journals, published. We are rarely presented with the definitive work on any subject these days. Decisions must be made about what to preserve and how to preserve it, and we all have our favourite causes. Trashing perfectly good old books always seems like murder. I mean, maybe everybody threw out their copy of A User's Guide to CP/M, like I did not so long ago.
   Meanwhile, in Dublin, the National Museum has just put on display an 8th century psalter found in a peat bog in 2006 and finally conserved so that it can be displayed. The museum has an article on the find and its conservation The Faddan More Psalter. Click on the PDF file link for more information on the conservation and some photographs. The Independent has an article about the item going on display Public gets first look at ancient book of psalms. Now while it seems that a peat bog is not the ideal conservation medium for ancient books, it is better than a damp cellar, inflammable library or bug ridden attic. The book is severely damaged, but it is still there and evidence for ancient Irish written culture. But why was it in a peat bog at all? Is it possible that it may have been culled from a monastic library centuries ago???
   There is a story that Gerald of Wales, the 12th century cleric and traveller through Britain's Celtic realms, saw the Book of Kells. He certainly saw and described an ancient book which he admired, but nothing about it suggests that it was the Books of Kells. Rare finds like this latest remind us that there were many wondrous things that have been lost.

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