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Journal cover: Library Hi Tech

Library Hi Tech

ISSN: 0737-8831

Online from: 1983

Subject Area: Library and Information Studies

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Format obsolescence: assessing the threat and the defenses

Document Information:
Title:Format obsolescence: assessing the threat and the defenses
Author(s):David S.H. Rosenthal, (Stanford University Libraries, Palo Alto, California USA)
Citation:David S.H. Rosenthal, (2010) "Format obsolescence: assessing the threat and the defenses", Library Hi Tech, Vol. 28 Iss: 2, pp.195 - 210
Keywords:Archiving, Computer software, Digital storage, Document handling, Obsolescence
Article type:Conceptual paper
DOI:10.1108/07378831011047613 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Acknowledgements:Thanks are due to Cliff Lynch, who initially inspired me to formulate these thoughts, Jeff Rothenberg, for constructive criticism, the commentors on the various relevant posts on my blog, and the LOCKSS engineering team. The opinions expressed, and any errors, are the author's own. © 2010 David S.H. Rosenthal

Purpose – This paper aims to examine the approach to format obsolescence, preparing for format migration, that has guided most digital preservation work for the last 15 years. It asks why this approach has not rescued significant content in that time, and whether it would succeed in rescuing future content at risk of format obsolescence.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper examines the mechanisms of format obsolescence, its historical and current incidence, and identifies attributes of at-risk formats. It examines each step of the current approach asking how effective it would be for these formats.

Findings – The current approach assumes format obsolescence is common, happening frequently to most formats. In fact it is rare, happening infrequently to rare formats. The current approach, based on this mis-diagnosis, is ineffective. An alternate approach, based on open source and virtualization, is cheaper and more effective.

Originality/value – The paper makes the case that the commonly accepted approach to digital preservation devotes resources to activities that are unlikely to be effective.

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