Thursday, July 17, 2014

A day in the life of the digital archivist

Hot pink. Not our favorite color for a lit anthology.
PRESERVING A 75-YEAR-OLD pope cap is one thing, but ensuring access to a three-year-old PDF is quite another.

We'll take old silk and kid leather any day.

In the process of writing our next "From the Archives" piece for the Mount Magazine, we needed to grab PDFs of our literary anthologies from our digitized collections on the Internet Archive.

Here is an inside page from the 1937 poetry collection First the Blade. Obviously, this is not what it is supposed to look like. The colorful display is a good indication that the integrity of the PDF has been compromised. (Don't worry -- we would never get rid of the original. It's safe on a shelf.)

Keeping an eye on our digitized treasures is part of the job of the archivist. Fixing this issue will require some testing and the complicated prospect of locating a good copy of the PDF and re-uploading it to the Internet Archive.

Three years, or 75? Physical objects are much easier to preserve than digital. Three years in the digital world is a very long time, and we're never surprised by the number of CD-ROMs that come our way that can't be opened. On the other hand, we have 800-year-old parchment in Special Collections that looks good as new.

Postscript: This week our colleagues around the globe are contributing day-in-the-life photos and tweets to a shared website called "5 Days of Preservation." The variety of tasks and materials is amazing. Look for these and our own hot-pink contribution at

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