Vol. IX, no. 2..........................................WINDOWS
A View Through the Transom
by Hugh Macdonald
This month the TCU Library will pass another milestone in its history;
it will open its first off- site storage facility in downtown Fort Worth.
We must do this so as to free up space in the Mary Couts Burnett Library
building for our constantly growing collections. But we are not disposing
of many books since our mission as an academic research library still dictates
that we retain, preserve and provide access to as much of the record of
human knowledge as we are reasonably able.
The key word here is access. Moving those books downtown makes access
to them more remote, but access is still possible. However, many librarians
and persons concerned with the preservation of information are discovering
reasons to fear that retention and preservation will not necessarily ensure
access in the next century or centuries.
Consider how many formats for recording information have evolved in the
last 150 years alone. And then consider how many have nearly or altogether
vanished. The list would include some still-accessible formats (because
someone somewhere still has a playback machine or decoder), say for Edison
cylinders or piano rolls, but how many of you reading this could find something
on which to play back your not so old eight-track tapes? Or where could
you find a machine to sort your hoard of thousands of IBM punched cards?
(A very bright library student assistant confessed that he had no idea
what I was talking about when I mentioned those IBM cards Is his ignorance
of them the bliss of our progeny?) I have read that masses of records relating
to the Vietnam War are now inaccessible because no one can reconstruct
the decoding apparatus. What will be the Rosetta Stones of our current
stores of information and knowledge? Information can be transferred from
format to format, of course, but only if someone undertakes to do it before
the technology in which it is embedded vanishes.
Now librarians and information scientists are becoming concerned that the
digital media which have replaced paper and are magnetically and electronically
digitalized may suffer obliteration in several ways: material, mechanical
or programmatical. Their concern is of paramount importance and the question
of which data are stored and reformatted for future access and which data
are allowed to decay or are abandoned and discarded is one of the most
compelling of our age.
All this will certainly have an impact upon those of us who now call ourselves
librarians. Indeed, at a Harvard conference which this writer attended
a year ago this March, one of the speakers describing this common concern
declared that librarians of the future may be called "format archaeologists."
I, for one, don't particularly look forward to the promotion.
Previous | Return
to Table of Contents