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Preserving the Past in the Digital Age Is Still a Massive Headache

 In OM Archive

When the greatest archive of the ancient world, the Library of Alexandria, was destroyed, all it’s precious resources disappeared.

That’s certainly the way most people think of the vandalization that ravaged the world-renowned collection in 391 A.D. The truth, however, is more complicated with echoes that reverberate from the days when “data storage” was on papyrus scrolls to the multiterabyte cosmos of the cloud.

See if this sounds familiar. By the time the Alexandria library was set ablaze the institution had been in decline for centuries, victimized by anti-intellectual purges, administrative infighting and resignations, lack of funding, falling membership, and the need for more secure storage space. As a result, by the time the fatal fire was lit, the majority of the Alexandria Library collection had already been dispersed (probably sold off) to other institutions around the Mediterranean.

Technology has not made the problem any easier. Modern digital storage is still expensive and data and audio/video can be lost when older websites are no longer technologically supported, when links become corrupted, when budgets run out, when new technology renders older storage systems obsolete, and much more. Our information and cultural history may not be as secure as we believe it to be.

To understand the issues facing archivists today, I spoke with several experts on the subject: Charles Amirkhanian, long-time producer for Pacifica Radio station KPFA and co-founder (with Jim Newman), in 1993, of the new and experimental music organization Other Minds; Indian music scholar and performer Jody Cormack, archive assistant for the World Music Archives at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut; and Robert Chehoski, manager of the Media Management Archive for Bay Area educational television station KQED and KQED FM. —Jim Farber

Click here to read complete article in San Francisco Classical Voice

Photo: a tape library at KPFA

Michael Tilson Thomas conducting an orchestraLaurie Anderson
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