Service of Storage & Preservation

August 25th, 2011

Categories: Preservation, Storage


How do you decide what to toss and how do you store and preserve the keepers? I’ve often written about my photos. The digital ones currently live in my computer. Like anyone’s mine could crash at any moment. I organized the snaps shot before digital in acid-free boxes and kept the negatives, though who knows why as I have no clue who can make dupes from negs these days.

A friend of ours worked at an ad agency years ago. One of her colleagues was Andy Warhol. Who knew that she and the others should have kept his sketches and first-run designs? In a compact apartment, where would she have stored this and all of her own and her husband’s stuff besides? Would the paper have disintegrated and the images faded in any case?

dsc01442My husband collects old master drawings–the practice pieces that 15th to 18th century artists drew before setting oil to canvas or paint to church walls or simply to capture movement or scenery in their daily travels. I have always wondered how they or others knew to keep these things. Ours are preserved in frames for the purpose and kept out of direct sunlight. God help them if there’s a fire.

Kari Kraus wrote “When Data Disappears” in a recent New York Times opinion piece. She noted that author and futurist Bruce Sterling gave his papers to the University of Texas and that’s just what they got–papers–because as Kraus put it, “digital storage is perishable, perhaps even more so than paper. Disks corrode, bits ‘rot’ and hardware becomes obsolete.”

piles-of-booksKraus shared fascinating facts. Some estimate that every year we generate almost 30 million times the amount of digital information contained in all the books ever published: 1.8 zettabytes.

As for preservation solutions, Kraus mentions migrating data which she equates with translating Japanese to Hungarian. She adds that it isn’t just a matter of copying files and warns that you generally lose data. Then there’s emulation which she defines as a modern computer designed “to act like an old one.” This won’t work forever because soon the modern computer is out of date.

early-computerShe feels that the most promising efforts, which she calls “digital curation,” [as compared to digital preservation that doesn’t work] are made by video gamers. She wrote: “In the face of negligence from the game industry, fans of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and ‘Pac-Man’ have been creating homegrown solutions to collecting, documenting, reading and rendering games, creating an evolving archive of game history. They coordinate efforts and share the workload – sometimes in formal groups, sometimes as loose collectives. Nor does the data just sit around. These are gamers, after all, so they are constantly engaged with the files. In the process, they update them, create duplicates and fix bugs.”

After reading Kraus’s article I spoke about the topic of digital preservation with my husband who observed: “And some think that by putting all our health information on computers we’ll streamline healthcare.” It seemed like such a good idea when I first heard of it but unless patients are 98, is it? If the real purpose is to create perpetual work for thousands, that’s another matter.

How often do you weed out memos to clients and bosses? Are you a digital Collier brother? How do you preserve photos and copy? Are you concerned about losing material?


6 Responses to “Service of Storage & Preservation”

  1. Hester Craddock Said:

    To my knowledge, the City of New London, CT, a couple of years ago, decided not to store its city records digitally. After a careful study, it determined that because of the high risk and likelihood of loss, which comes with digital storage, it was well worth the incremental cost to store them in hard copy.

    This story repeats itself across a broad spectrum of institutions. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library even has a policy that no book, which enters its collection, including brand new reference works, must ever leave the building. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to lend anything. People who are serious about preserving things, will rightly go to great lengths to protect them, and that certainly does not include storing them digitally.

    I believe there is an explanation as to why computers are so storage unfriendly. If you look at the geniuses who invented all these machines and systems, they seem to be, while now very rich, an uneducated bunch in the traditional sense. Often college dropouts, they have little interest in knowing who Socrates or George Washington was, or what they did, thought or wrote. What fascinates them is making their machines do new things and creating new gadgets. Their attitude is: To hell with preserving anything, we don’t need old stuff. We can and will do it all new, all the time.

    We the consumer must pay the price. Each gadget we buy is obsolete the moment we walk out of the store, and we now must waste ever increasing amounts of time sorting through the useless information with which we are bombarded everyday on the internet.

  2. ASK Said:

    What to keep, what to throw out: This is a subject that I grapple with constantly. I can offer no solutions. I still have my stereo record-player and old 33 rpm albums–someone offered me a lot of money for both, especially the Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers” album-the one where you can actually unzip Mick Jagger’s fly. I then had a serious relationship with music tapes and a Walkman. My husband followed that with a portable CD player for my birthday and I bought some disks, a brief flirtation really. By the time the iPod came along, I was technologically spent and gave up.

    Being in print journalism so long, I keep all printed pages as well as online files. If computer technology changes, well at least, I still have the hard copy…

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder if the paper on which material is stored in New London is of high rag content and kept in an acid-free environment?

    I notice that the ink fades almost immediately or smears if touched or folded in a wallet on many receipts I get these days. Sometimes I want to keep the receipt to remember what wine I bought and liked or didn’t or if I need to return something that doesn’t work or if I need to submit backup to a client or a record of a serial number–just the information a friend needed when he was recently robbed.

    I can’t guess whether uneducated techies think about preservation or not but they take a marketing page out of the beauty product book. Get someone to buy an expensive makeup case and then change the shape of the refill so when it’s time to refill, it’s back to buying another case. Ever notice how many expensive cartridges you toss when your printer dies and you can’t buy a new one that fits those cartridges?

    The tech environment is one of “What’s new is the only important thing” on steroids. If you manufacture a tech product and aren’t prepared to introduce a new tweak at least quarterly, don’t bother to exist if you want coverage by tech media.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Do you still listen to your records?

    If the digital preservation scene weren’t so bleak, I’d suggest that you scan all those clips of yours so that you have backup, but like your records, tapes and CDs, the scans and transfers to CDs or flash drives will soon take a place on the shelf with the rest.

  5. ASK Said:

    My husband really does not like Mick Jagger, or the Eagles, or Bob Dylan, or the Doors. I do not enjoy listening to Frank Sinatra or Artie Shaw or either of the Dorsey brothers at length. We’ve solved everything: I now go to the opera and he watches baseball.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Talk about PRESERVATION! Your recipe is a sure way to preserve a wonderful marriage!

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