By Dr. Larry Burriss
It was a quiet weekend, so I got my hundred-year-old copy of “The Man Without a Country” off the shelf and spent a few hours re-reading this American classic.
Did you get that? My hundred-year-old copy.
Now, try this: go get that old box of computer parts, find a 5 and 1/4 inch floppy disk, and try to find a computer to read it. Or how about a Zip Disk? Maybe a 3 and 1/2 inch floppy?
Did you spend hours transferring the files from one system to another? probably not.
Or maybe you have tried to download some pictures from your phone, only to find your computer didn’t have the right cable connector or the correct decoding program.
Now multiply these little problems a thousand-fold or more, and you can see the problems facing even small libraries as they try to keep up with digitizing and born-digital books, magazines, photographs, sound recordings and the myriad of other formats they have to keep up with.
Oh, and add to these problems the fact that some publishers will not allow libraries to use their own digitizing software, and instead have to use some obscure, proprietary software, or face a copyright infringement lawsuit.
And not only does the software change, but the digital media the documents reside on changes as well.
How many of you remember Digital Linear Tape? That latest and greatest technology, with an original capacity of 100 megabytes, lasted all of 23 years before it was obsolete, and files stored on those system were unreadable, unless new software and hardware was purchased.
Then there are issues with cataloging and metadata. Library users have ever-changing expectations about what they can access, and no longer will a simple index work. After all, a user may want to find a particular photograph of a bear in a flower-strewn meadow with hills in the background?
So which words will the librarian, use to index the photograph? Any of the dozens of words for all kinds of bears?
What about all of the different kinds of flowers in the photograph? Index each kind?
Is there a name of the meadow that needs to be indexed? A name for the hill? The Native American name or the English name? And which spelling?
And what of the dozen or so words used to locate the scene? Country, state, county, nearest city, township?
The possibilities are almost infinite, and woe to the librarian who misses one!
New technologies can be wonderful things, but your local library is going to need some serious financial and legal help to keep it from turning into that old box with dozens of files and formats inaccessible to anyone.
I’m Larry Burriss.