Digital preservation becoming increasingly necessary

Ben Breier

Marcia Zeng, professor in the School of Library and Information Science, proposed a very important question:

“Do you ever have problems where you’ve lost your data, or can’t read a file from your disk?”

If you’re a student at Kent State, chances are you answered that question with a resounding yes.

Zeng has been teaching at the university for 14 years with a heavy focus on digital preservation — making sure digital data will be accessible in the future.

She said there are two types of digital information — a digital double, which is a copy of something physical transposed into a digital format, and born digital information — which is only available digitally and cannot be read any other way, such as the Internet.

“Everybody cannot avoid this issue of how to store their data and access it in the future,” Zeng said.

She also said digital preservation requires a lot of planning and strategy, especially when considering what data is important and how it should be preserved.

The Library of Congress has over 17 million books, and digitizing all of them would take up approximately 10 to 136 terabytes of space, depending on what formats are being used.

To put that into perspective, the Internet in 2003 used 167 terabytes — this number only includes surface data, and does not count things such as e-mails, instant messages or online databases.

Zeng said we will lose access to data even if we have it on physical items like a floppy disk, as no computer will be able to read the disk as technology advances.

Furthermore, the disk as a medium is not completely safe.

“It’s not preserved,” Zeng said. “Eventually, the floppy disk will die.”

Rick Rubin, director of the School of Library and Information Science, said on a scale of one to 10, he feels the importance of digital preservation is roughly a six at this time.

“I do think it is important. There are other things that are perhaps more pressing, such as fiscal matters and resources for the university,” he said. “It’s certainly above average to me that we pay attention to this.”

Rubin said a search committee has been recently appointed to hire a full-time tenure track position with a focus on digital preservation. Rubin said he hopes to fill this position by the fall of 2006, but thinks it has a better chance of being filled in the spring or fall of 2007.

“I’m very excited about the prospects of getting someone in digital preservation,” Rubin said. “That person could serve both the school and the university.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].