You can’t stop the signal, Mal

Firefly (TV series)

Image via Wikipedia

Fans of Firefly or Serenity will recognize the title of this post. The problem is that the signal can be stopped. Every day we are losing digital content. The Library of Congress has identified content which they believe is the most important to preserve in relation to national identity. They instituted an initiative to work with libraries and individuals to prioritize digital preservation. The National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) Program was designed to help identify the digital history that needs to be preserved as well as the means for preserving it.

According to the NDIIPP Program report from 2010:

What Is At-Risk Content?
Much digital content is at risk of loss because there is little robust and secure infrastructure for its collection, management, and preservation. In building a national preservation strategy, our nation must address
four categories of risk.
Technological Risks
• Hardware and software, both proprietary and open source, can be a challenge to maintain and keep current.
• Content formats can be complex and fragile. They are often not well documented and frequently become obsolete.
• Lifecycle management risks such as data migration, file degradation (“bit rot”), or unauthorized use can make content unusable.
Legal and Policy Risks
• Copyright laws are unclear about libraries’ rights to create and keep preservation copies.
• Privacy claims can prohibit collection and documentation of content.
Sarbanes-Oxley regulations can induce content owners to destroy historically valuable documents.
• The law does not recognize public value in preserving digital content. There are few policy incentives for concerned parties to preserve content in the public interest.
Content Risks
• The volume or complexity of content makes it difficult to collect comprehensively.
• Insufficient description of content makes it challenging to discover or retrieve it for use.
Organizational Risks
• Insufficient resources to maintain information can lead to content loss.
• Lines of authority and responsibility for maintaining digital content are often not aligned with the demands of such content.
• Insufficient skilled personnel can prevent even routine best practices from being implemented.

So what does this mean for the majority of us? The Library of Congress is urging everyone to take steps to preserve their personal digital history. They have a how-to guide on their website to help individuals consider the best way to keep track of their digital information for the long term.

The charge for librarians and archivists will be finding a way to do this on a larger scale. How can we collect, organize, and store all of the information that could be important to future generations? The Library of Congress is working on that, but as you can see from the excerpt above, there are many moving parts in this equation. A monthly newsletter is published highlighting the progress as well as giving tips and tricks for preservation. Their blog is also a great way to keep up-to-date on issues and events. So the next time you save a picture or a paper, consider the format and how important that memory is to keep and access in the future.


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