Larry Medina

How long IS permanent?

By Larry Medina
November 15, 2005 4:59 PM EST
It's ironic to me when someone has an epiphany related to the management of information in electronic formats for EXTREMELY LONG periods of time.

Most recently, this article struck my fancy. The opening salvo from the article was:

"BBC2’s Newsnight programme at 11.00pm may not be a source of inspiration for analysis and comment on IT issues, but its feature on electronic storage on 8th November was surprisingly articulate and enlightening—despite the sound of Kirsty Wark’s voice. Perhaps some of the storage vendors were awake to view it? It brought to centre stage the issue storage vendors fail to address: “How can I have perpetual electronic storage without the cost, inefficiency and risks of transferring data periodically to new storage systems?” The simple answer is: “Print the records out on non-acidic paper and store in cool but dry place!”"

Okay, okay... while i think the final line about printing everything "on non-acidic paper" is a bit extreme, but it was pretty funny.  The relaization that there are serious costs, inefficiencies and risks concerned with the periodic migration and conversion of electronic formats of information is a VERY important one, and it isn't dealt with in a serious enough manner when estimates are being developed for the cost of managing information stored electronically over long periods of time. Take a look at any of the business proposals in your own organizations and how much money is in there for conversion, migration, QA/QC of images and refreshing media to avoid degradation?

And by long, I'm talking about the types of examples cited in the article... information required to be managed into perpetuity— such as assets of museums, cemeteries, and medical institutions.  It's not impossible to do this, but as those of us who have been involved in migrations know, it's not a "lossless" process... and in many cases, it's impossible to know exactly WHAT was lost, just that SOMETHING was lost. 

Well, what if it was a member of YOUR family's medical records, or your child's educational records, or the location of a family plot, or worse yet, something identified as a Vital Record... a birth, death, marriage or property record?  Cities, counties, states and others are among those embracing the conversion of paper and microfilm records to electronic forms and once done, destroying the source documents... after all, if there's a regulation against it, who better to change the regulations to suit their current processes than those who issued them?

WE are at the center of this evolution, and it's OUR responsibility to ensure that those embracing the technology are informed of the risks and costs to make it successful if they're going forward with it.  What have YOU DONE to ensure this is taking place?