The Internet Archive is now archiving physical copies of books.
As the Internet Archive has digitized collections and placed them on our computer disks, we have found that the digital versions have more and more in common with physical versions. The computer hard disks, while holding digital data, are still physical objects. As such we archive them as they retire after their 3-5 year lifetime. Similarly, we also archive microfilm, which was a previous generationâ€™s access format. So hard drives are just another physical format that stores information. This connection showed us that physical archiving is still an important function in a digital era.
Recognizing that a book is just another device is important. It’s way too easy to make all sorts of cute analogies and comparisons between books and the digital world, so I’ll avoid it. How our society consumes words and images is bound to shift, but the book will still be here in fifty years.
During the past thirty years, writers have shifted from typewriters or pen and paper to word processors, adding a new layer of complexity to the tradition of archiving their work. Emory obtained Salman Rushdie’s archives, including notebooks, photographs, manuscripts, and a number of old computers. In The Author’s Desktop, Emory Magazine details the effort put into preserving his work for both academics and the general public. Rushdie’s archives were relatively easy to access, but others can prove much more difficult:
A particular challenge, she says, is that technology may have moved beyond the hardware or software artifacts in an authorâ€™s archive. For example, working parts may be difficult to find for a broken, early model computer, disks might be unable to be read, programs the author used might be outdated (think eight-track tapes without an eight-track tape player).
It’s not just hardware, software formats change too. The team had to do a lot of file conversions to make the documents available on modern systems. The files will probably need to be upgraded again and again. We could end up with the modern version of the transcription errors that occurred as scribes copied out manuscripts.
Letters from Beckett. Records of interpersonal communication will likely get lost in the swell of the digital world, it’s a shame.