How will future generations be able to access the enormous amount of information that is born digitally every day? Current technology like CDs and DVDs have a life expectancy of about 20 years and digital files last about 5 to 7 years. A group of sixteen archives, libraries, and research institutions in Europe formed the Planets Project to address this question. The group spent four years and over $18.49 million dollars to create a “Rosetta Stone” for the Digital Age. Ultimately, what they came up with is a time capsule holding examples of data formats which all contain the same data and instruction manuals relating to each format. The time capsule is securely stored at the data storage facility known as the Swiss Fort Knox in Switzerland.
I think this project had an admirable goal. Digital preservation is a tough issue that I am confronted with in the course of my work as a librarian. Whenever my library considers purchasing a new database or whether we should digitize our history collection, I am conflicted. Will we have access to the past issues of a magazine that we no longer buy as part of a database? Will the file format and resolution chosen for digitization be usable in ten years or later? I don’t have the answer. I don’t know that anyone does because its such a complex and multifaceted issue that is dependent upon rapidly changing technology.
The Planets Project attempted to solve this conundrum. This Rosetta Stone for the Digital Age, or digital DNA as some call it, tries to keep records of current and past formats. (Did they include Betamax? or LaserDisks?) I don’t think this is the right answer though. Perhaps it is part of the answer, but I hope there is more to it than reported by Reuters. Afterall, this group spent over four years and $18.49 million dollars to put together information and old floppy disks into a metal box stored under a mountain. I’m not sure that I could have come up with a better idea though.
Information provided from the article “‘Digital Genome’ Safeguards Dying Data Formats” by Reuter.