pub77. Avoiding Technological Quicksand: Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation
(1/99, 35 pp)
The report follows up Dr. Rothenberg's 1995 article in Scientific American, "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents" by elaborating the author's proposal for emulating obsolete software/hardware systems on future, unknown systems, as a means of preserving digital information far into the future. The report, and the research agenda it proposes, will be of interest to managers of digital information resources in libraries and archives, computer scientists, and to all those concerned about the preservation of intellectual resources and records in all formats—including government records, medical records, corporate data, and environmental and scientific data.
In the author's view, the emulation approach is not just a promising candidate for a solution to the problem of digital preservation, but the only approach offering a true solution to the problem. In the report, he explores the problem of long-term digital preservation, spells out the criteria for an ideal solution, and analyzes the shortcomings of other solutions (printing and preserving hard copy, translating digital documents so that they migrate into new systems, reading them on obsolete systems preserved in museums, or relying on standards to keep them readable). Then he describes how to encapsulate a document so that is can be decoded by an emulator, the sequence of events required to preserve the document and to read it on future systems, and the techniques that need to be developed in order to make emulation work.
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