Friday, April 26, 2013

Preservation Week @MSMC, Part 5

If you think it looks a little
insubstantial, you're correct.
IT'S THE END OF THE SEMESTER, and from the look of them a lot of the students' heads are in the clouds. The seniors are just a few days from Cloud 9. And these days, all of us with pads, pods, desktops and smartphones are in the Cloud constantly, whether we know it or not.

We hear about it everywhere: Cloud computing, Cloud storage, in the Cloud. It refers to the vast tracts of cyberspace where our digital lives live and move and have their being (to paraphrase St. Luke). The applications we interact with on our smartphones, our online picture collections, games, communications and even historic archives are kept in the Cloud. (This blog is written in the Cloud and you're reading it from there... where ever "there" is.)

Without inducing glazed eyes, we should explain that the Cloud merely represents a whole bunch of interconnected computers all over the world with extra computing capacity that would otherwise go to waste. Amazon started the movement around 2000 by leasing this unused capacity to companies and individuals, and now all kinds of third parties offer Cloud-based storage and applications. 

Not much better, but you can at least hold it in your hand.
This holds 750 gigabytes of Mount Archives data.
The problem with digital documents and pictures and audio and video is that they're all really only teeny on-and-off switches (the 1s and 0s, respectively), and "preserving" them means a whole lot more than sliding them into a polyester sleeve and putting them in an acid-free folder. CDs, DVDs, flash drives and external hard disks like this one are quickly going the way of the floppy disk, so it's only appropriate to speak of JPEGs in terms of maybe 15 or 20 years (5 to 7 if you're not careful), not 100 or more like plain paper or a good black and white print.

The Cloud actually helps with this because it gets around one serious problem, the rapid obsolescence of storage media. But the Cloud then raises a raft of preservation issues of special concern to archivists, like, oh, where is it, who owns it, how do you know it's the real thing, and will you ever get it back of the Cloud provider goes under – "it" being any digital item you happen to stick in the Cloud. Remember, "it" is just a bunch of 1s and 0s. 

In spite of these problems, we're forward-looking at the Mount – and do we ever have a lot of stuff in the Cloud these days. If you want to create access for users (tomorrow's blog!), it has to go somewhere digital – and somewhere is that vast network in the sky. If you haven't seen them, take a look at the Mount's collections in the Cloud, thousands upon thousands of individual blobs of nicely arranged 1s and 0s. 

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