As a brief personal history addendum — film archiving and preservation is very dear to me, and I’ve long been researching and studying the practices and theories since my school years.
Which brings me to my subject of the day. Recently, I came across this article, “When Irreplaceable History Lives on Obsolete Tech" (via AMIA). During grad school, when I was studying film archiving and preservation extensively, a lot of the road blocks I hit were in regards to the assumption that with todays current media (DVDs, Blu-Ray, Hard-Drives, etc.), film archiving wasn’t as necessary since physical film is rarely used these days in favor of digital formats.
I wish this article was written a few years ago. One of the very valid points the writer (John Wenz) stresses upon in this article is, “Disks themselves are, of course, fragile and suffer from inevitable ‘bit rot’ due to magnetic degradation”. More importantly, he addresses the fact that besides the obsolete piece of tech (his example, floppy disks), you need the proper device to access the content, if it’s even salvageable. Then there’s the whole subject of file differences. Files saved on a floppy disk three decades ago, will be in a different format than the JPEG and PNG files we’re accustom to today. Magnetic formats also decay. Nitrate is obsolete now, and who is to say that digital disks won’t be a 100 years from now, or better yet, a 100 years from now, we’ll be using entirely different means of saving data.
While film becomes obsolete, technology does, too. Who still has a VHS player? Who still can access data placed on a floppy disk? Better yet, who will save it?
Links: AvSap (Audiovisual Self-Assessment Program), NFPF (National Film Preservation Foundation), Smithsonian Institute Archives.
Recommended Reading: Nitrate Won’t Wait, Saving Cinema