Friday, January 8, 2010

Robert Darnton on Preservation

Link to January 8 Bloomberg News article, "Google’s Digital Library May Not Outlast Paper".

: Invoking the great fires that destroyed the library at ancient Alexandria and the U.S. Library of Congress, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says electronic texts will preserve the world’s cultural heritage.

Google Books aims to create a digital mega-library with millions of books and periodicals available online.

Well, remember microfilm? Worried about the decay of paper, librarians rushed to put their collections on film, discarding many of the originals in the process. Instead of lasting forever, frames tore, shrank, melted together, sprouted bubbles, blemishes and sometimes even fungi.

Since bits become degraded over time, digitization may not prove any more reliable in the long term. Documents could easily disappear into cyberspace as their coding becomes obsolete. The accelerating speed of technological change may overcome even mighty Google, ultimately rendering its database as useless as floppy discs and CD-ROMs.

The best way to preserve texts is still to print them with ink on paper, says Robert Darnton, author of “The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future”

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