Commentary – Online Archives Disappear Along With Unique Collections

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on December 28, 2011

Print libraries, book collections, book shops – targets of fiscal austerity, the growing impact and power of e-books, social media, pay walls, e-commerce structures, and changing values about print media itself – are increasing disappearing. Regardless of the application of specific determining factors, the results are increased thresholds to open access to “knowledge.” There is also a corresponding assault on the lifespan of websites, blogs, databases, metadata and web enabled content such as documents and emails, as users with no notice discover information simply going offline. There is however a cadre of official and unofficial guardians of the written word, photos, databases and other archival materials. This article by Matt Schwartz, with reporting by Eva Talmadge, in Technology Review, provides insight into the work of some individuals with a mission is to salvage the “intellectual” property of millions of web users whose terabytes of words, work and documents are disappearing despite quick, creative and technologically adroit efforts to save what can be called modern internet “history” on a global scale. This article documents some of the challenges in the struggle to manage massive data loss, the folks who are data defenders, and how truly valuable libraries collections are in serious danger. Variable associated with digitizing collections (copyright, cost, shear volume of the task, and global conflict to name just a few), continue to impact this dynamic problem.

  • “People tend to believe that Web operators will keep their data safe in perpetuity. They entrust much more than poetry to unseen servers maintained by system administrators they’ve never met. Terabytes of confidential business documents, e-mail correspondence, and irreplaceable photos are uploaded as well, even though vast troves of user data have been lost to changes of ownership, abrupt shutdowns, attacks by hackers, and other discontinuities of service. Users of GeoCities, once the third-most-trafficked site on the Web, lost 38 million homemade pages when its owner, Yahoo, shuttered the site in 2009 rather than continue to bear the cost of hosting it.”
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