[Esip-preserve] Article in The New Yorker on Missing Documents

Bruce Barkstrom via Esip-preserve esip-preserve at lists.esipfed.org
Tue Dec 2 11:06:07 EST 2014

There's an interesting article in the current New Yorker:

Lapore, J., 2014: The Great Paper Caper: When Supreme Court file go missing,
The New Yorker, Dec. 1, 2014, 32-38

It recounts the theft of the original and authentic papers
of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter from the
Library of Congress sometime before November, 1972.

While these papers are not Earth science documents, the
theft does seem to raise the issue of having a single point
of failure in an archival system.  An alternative is to recognize
that replication of original objects is a valid strategy for reducing
loss, even if there is no single agency or organization devoted
to retaining the unique, authentic original copy.

A complicating issue for digital objects is the near certainty
of hardware and software obsolescence.  The latter can render
an original object (even if carefully maintained) unusable,
often on a time span of the three to ten year period for software
tools to be deprecated and effectively unusable.

It may be that we need to have a community discussion about
strategies for preserving digital information content even when
the bits are rearranged by transformational migration and are
stored in multiple places.

Bruce B.
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