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Short-term solutions to a long-term problem
Generally, migration and emulation are regarded the most promising methods for
archiving and long-term preservation. At present, migration is considered a viable path for
long-term preservation of specific types of material, such as text or other types of material
that are not complex multimedia objects. For such material, a certain degree of automation
might be reached in the future. Fact is, however, that each of these strategies and any kind of
data transfer onto current computer systems entails a loss of information, and they are not
yet sufficient strategies to preserve data over a longer time period without information loss.
Experts do not see any "rapid" technical solution to the problem of preservation on the
horizon.The long-term preservation issues involved (media instability, software, hardware
and format obsolescence, metadata, etc.) are known, but not solved so far. As Svein Arne
Brygfjeld, Head of Research and Innovation at the National Library of Norway, summarises
the situation:With regard to long-term preservation,"even a long-term perspective is short
term.Whatever we do is short-term now. (...) We need to learn to use short-term methods
for a long-term perspective." (DigiCULT ERT, Stockholm, June 14, 2001)
It is crucial to gain more experience in experimenting with migration as well as
emulation as preservation strategies. As mentioned above, the higher the level of content
abstraction, the more difficult and complex the preservation of digital objects.While we
have already experience with migrating text, we have little experience with migrating or
emulating more complex media types, such as interactive multimedia objects or GIS
objects, not to mention about new information objects that will emerge as a result of future
Future solutions to the challenge of digital preservation must incorporate the capability
to accommodate and incorporate changing technology and unforeseeable products of that
technology as the equipment and software for creating, reading, and understanding digital
information may not be available in a decade from now.
In addition, even if we were able to successfully emulate obsolete technology, we do not
know if the "results" actually would meet user expectations."It would be unrealistic to
expect that future users will be satisfied with having their access to electronic records
limited to what had been available under antiquated technology. Researchers today would
hardly be satisfied if access to old records required entering queries on punch cards, in
FORTRAN or COBOL, with output limited to printouts in upper case. Similarly, we must
anticipate that in the future there will be improved options available for ingest, preservation
and archives management as well as access." (Thibodeau, 2001).
At this stage, work in this area is still experimental and the theoretical concepts have not
been sufficiently tested over a longer time period for different kinds of digital material to
allow memory institutions to make informed decisions.Therefore, comprehensive strategies
and detailed guidelines are needed that demonstrate the migration paths for different media
types, including complex and interactive information objects. Strategic planning, an active
approach and organisation are essential to successfully preserving digitised and born-digital
information for the future.
In the meantime, cultural heritage institutions are well advised to adhere to open
standards and protocols that keep open future migration paths.