Tolle, legge!

I strolled through the library and picked up some books about Langzeitarchivierung – exciting, eh!? It may sound like a nasty food infection, but long-term archiving is a problem not only for archives and libraries, but also for companies, they may be small or big, produce hard goods or only code like google or WordPress or such. On closer consideration the German word is a bit nonsensical: Archivierung, archiving, is meant for long-term; it is not the normal, commercial, “Ablage” where for juridical reasons contracts or construction plans are filed away for ten years or so. An archive is meant for the things that shall last, in the end it is meant for generations to come. The vain hope to preserve our traces for eternity. The term Langzeitarchivierung and its English counterpart mean the conservation of our digital legacy.
Over the last ten years or longer a lot of things are digitalized and made available over the web. A student or a scholar now has the possibility to visit f.e. a medieval manuscript via the screen on his desk. This brings some pros: More people can see things of cultural value and importance; people do not need to gather in front of the one and only original to look at things and discuss whatever there is to discuss – the original can be left alone and stored under optimal conditions, undisturbed, be it a codex, an image on a glass plate, or a wax cylinder containing a speech. There was huge progress, and there is no end in sight, this process is unstoppable.
Where is the data? Today on servers obviously. Machines may go kaput. Have you ever lost data because the hard drive crashed? Do some of my venerated readers still know 3½” diskettes (Ger., Eng.), 5¼” or 8”? DOS means Diskette Operated System. Mikroschuft (slang for Microsoft, well understood in a certain age group!) once (HA!) changed the data format, so there was no more up- or downwards compatibility. Once trusted programs ceased to exist and vanished (Netscape (Ger., Eng.) anyone?), so did f.e. text processing and database processing programs I worked with in the 1980s and 1990s. One institute I had worked for solved the problem by the root – they threw away not only the 486 (Ger., Eng.) I had used, but also the original program PLUS the diskettes with the database / catalogue my colleagues and me had produced over three years: We have CDs now. Fine. They rot away after ten to fifteen years. Basteds.
Let’s assume there is a large company, producing technically advanced hard goods; proud on its history that spans over 150 years or so. They have a historical archive, where they keep the letters and plans of the first machinery they built; the venerated founder himself produced, accurately drew, the plans. Since the 1960s they use electronic devices, first maybe in accounting or bookkeeping. Today all – and I mean really all – is made via electronic devices. What we face is a giant internal electronic web that connects working stations on different locations all over the planet. There is the headquarter maybe in Bavaria, production in America and China – and anything in between.
How do you archive that?
One can not make simply a backup on file-day and then store away some terabyte. Things must be well structured – and again, archiving is not simply taking things on file, ad acta. This needs a real concept, not just a nebulous idea. I would really like to visit one of the storage facilities, and even more like to learn what large companies actually do in this respect.
BTW when I grabbed some books from the shelf I found a small tome about the history of medieval mysticism, and accidentally came upon Julian of Norwich (Ger., Eng.). Interesting woman.

9 thoughts on “Tolle, legge!

  1. Oh, I’m having flash-backs with the data storage.

    In the late 1970s, I worked on computer systems that used cassette tapes for program loading and data storage. The domestic US version used NRZI encoding, while our European export version used ECMA format (I forget which standard number, sorry).

    Our digital typesetting machines used the 8-inch floppy disks for data storage. And of course, my first IBM PC home computer in 1983 used 5¼-inch disks (double side, double density!).

  2. Sorry Tonband LX, Akismet the algorithm had sent your comment to the sandbox – he can’t help, it’s his nature when he detects two links in a comment.
    I remember the first datasette (Ger., Eng.) – a friend used it while I had no idea what his machine was actually doing. No idea that these thingies once would rule the world …
    ECMA lead to ANSI lead to ISO, something in the forties or fifties. All still actual!

    ds and dd!

  3. *gasp*

    Will you celebrate your new freedom with a bit of dancing, GipsbeinschaumnurnochfüreinenTag? I hope it all will work fine again, and you do not fall or something, just be a bit careful at the beginning; jumping over fences and climbing trees can wait until next week.

    I remember the very thin Kopierpapier, and how hard one had to peck on the Tasten. The very first keyboards that were still made from metal and had this certain clicking sound needed a similar technique, but it was comparable more to an electric typewriter, not a pure mechanical one. One needed a bit of strength im Anschlag when making copies – and put the Kohlepapier the correct way in …

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