Saturday, 29 December 2012

Copying as preservation

I’ve just posted a link to a rather worrying story about what is happening to the manuscript in Timbuktu after the jihadist takeover, but there is also a positive message in the story.

Once digitised, artefacts, be they manuscripts, oral history recordings, or whatever can be copied, and quite simply, the more copies the greater the likelihood of the material surviving.

Museum directors tend to find the idea of letting people copy their digital holdings worrying for a whole host of reasons, such as misuse of the material (do you want your byzantine manuscript being reused in a design for a coffee can?), reduction in visitor numbers, and even conservation budgets (it’s digitised, stuff the original).

In fact what they worry about is losing control.

There are a lot of ways round this – a clockss type solution for museum collections would be one, although in the ideal world a more open solution may be preferable. Likewise one could imagine using something like Amazon glacier for an escrow service.

Solutions like clockss are cheap – the hardware is not remarkable and other than the salaries of the core technical team, all of whom would fit in a minivan with space over, the organisational costs are not high.

Otherwise we are left to ad hoc peering arrangements and arbitrary decisions as tho what is worth replicating. And that tends not to be a good thing – when the monks copied manuscripts they were selective copying the things they thought valuable, plus of course the odd salacious passage to enliven these cold dark winter nights, and that’s not a particularly good set of selection criteria …

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