Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Markdown for archival description

And why bother with Markdown?

There’s a lot of reasons most of which centre around efficiency and simplicity,
but there’s also another one as regards digital archiving.

Often we need to generate descriptive material around items, in short to
document it. One simple example would be to say that a particular archived
dataset contains data recovered from a set of 9 track tapes and this is how the
tapes were read.

We might also wish to include a table listing the tapes and information
contained on the tape labels and some photographs of the tapes themselves.

And what we are doing is creating both a statement of provenance and a link to
the physical manifestation of the data.

Over the last ten or so years much toner has been spent on creating policies
around preferred archival file formats for documents, but when we create these
provenance documents we tend to use standard tools and generate these documents
using Word and other such tools, and ignoring our own advice about format

Markdown because it’s text based is ideal. We can transform it to make a pdf, or
a Word or Libre Office document. Yet because it’s text based it can be read with
almost any display tool, and the format is sufficiently simple to be interpreted
without any real knowledge of the syntax of Markdown itself, in other words we
can treat Markdown as simply an enhanced text file.

And of course, in using it as documentation standard we’re not creating a
precedent, GitHub was there before us …

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