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Preservation of Documents and Photographic Images: Long Term Strategies for Future Generations

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Upon discovering the unfamiliar object in their grandparents' attic, most people today would be hard-pressed to play back a recording made on a wax cylinder of the late 1800s. What will people do just 50 years from now with an optical disk or magnetic hard drive? Over time, we have recorded our memories in many ways: letters, post cards, photographs, movies, audio and video recordings are a few examples. In earlier days, interpreting those non-time-sequenced (“still”) recordings was independent of the technology used to create them – you could hold and view a hard copy document in your hand. But even in those early days, time-sequenced recordings depended on the technology used to create them to render them back into a usable form. Our success in dealing with technology changes and rendering early recordings for the masses has been mixed at best. Hard copy documents and images, however, were never an issue until recent times. How will future generations deal with those post cards, letters to the family, and photographs that have now been replaced by “Word documents”, email, and digital images on the computer? Consumers need to become aware of long-term storage and preservation issues that relate to the preservation of the data behind digital documents including photographic images, letters, etc. The more obvious issues, such as accidental or catastrophic data loss and hardware format evolution, have been recognized by the archiving community. Consumers need to be alerted to these issues and be prepared to develop preservation strategies as well. However, longer-term issues beyond routine backup and migration of data also need to be considered. The basic solution of preservation via human-readable hardcopy documents and images is one option, but this raises a fundamental question regarding image preservation that transcends even the more complex solutions—the long-term stability of the chosen media, whether digital or analog. This paper provides an update on preservation strategies for the consumer. While the familiar advice to “make a hard copy” provides a solid foundation, we go beyond this recommendation, with the intent to raise awareness of the need to create a long-term preservation plan for documents and images, and the data behind them.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • The IS&T (digital) Archiving Conference offers a unique opportunity for imaging scientists and those working in the cultural heritage community (curators, archivists, librarians, photographers etc) from around the world to come together to discuss the most pressing issues related to the digital preservation and stewardship of hardcopy, and other cultural heritage documents and objects. Authors come from museums, archives, libraries, government institutions, industry and academia. Cutting edge topics related to multispectral and 3D imaging, as well as best practices for workflow, sharing, standards, and asset/collection management and dissemination are explored in papers presented at this annual, international event.

    Please note: For purposes of its Digital Library content, IS&T defines Open Access as papers that will be downloadable in their entirety for free in pertuity. Copyright restrictions on papers vary; see individual paper for details.

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