permanence of electronics

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Thu Mar 20 14:14:23 CST 1997

At 02:46 PM 03-20-97 EST, Una Smith wrote:

>Leaving valuable information on obsolete media is like leaving your
>books behind when you move to a new office.  I know someone who likes
>to joke about throwing a lighted match into his office and closing
>the door, but he would never actually do that.  Yet it is common for
>us to "forget" to transfer our carefully archived datasets to more
>current media or formats.  We all expect that when a library moves to
>a new building, the books will go with it;  can't we expect virtual
>libraries to maintain similar responsibilities?

Well, we can certainly EXPECT it, but whether they do it or not is another

Converting from one medium to another is often enormously costly and
time-consuming.  When this thread went 'round about a year ago, several
parties related stories of huge data sets lying about on punch cards or
reels of magnetic tape that were now virtually inaccessible because
technology had passed them by.  I chipped in with a glib comment about how
it was a good thing we hadn't permitted publication via 8-track audio tape
or beta-format videotape.

The fact of the matter is, is a big beautiful brave new world of electronic
publication that awaits us out there.  Things will be marvellously superior
to anything we can conceive of now.  Someday, our fears and concerns will be
seen as foolish, not unlike 19th-century folks who feared railway travel
because speeds over 45 km/h would suck the air out of their lungs.  Folks
will take for granted levels of data access that we cannot even imagine.
But lets not burn our bridges behind us.   Remember the old saw about fools
rushing in where angels fear to tread.  It will take careful, rational
planning  and much discussion (such as we're having right now!) to bring
this brave new world about.  Let's move ahead, but let's not load any
precious, irreplaceable cargoes into the boat until we're sure she's sea-worthy.

Thomas G. Lammers
Department of Botany                     Classification, Nomenclature,
Field Museum of Natural History          Phylogeny and Biogeography
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive       of the Campanulaceae
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:     lammers at
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317
fax:        312-427-2530

"... library science is the foundation of all sciences ... we will survive
or founder depending on how well the librarians do their jobs."
                                                             -- Robert A.

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