Digital preservation for the federal government is a monumental task. One of the challenges facing federal workers is that long before the complete set of records is digitized, those workers will be required to start making copies of the records they just created, a process called migration. Then, in a relatively short time, workers will need to make copies of those copies. It’s a job never completed, constantly in a state of chaos and confusion, with danger of losing the very data that is supposed to be preserved.
Effectively preserving federal records and archives for future generations requires accepting the fact that technology will continue to change how the world operates quicker than society can keep up. Relying on the latest computer, “cloud” or hard-drive farm is a path to catastrophic losses of data. The past taught us that paper actually is a surprisingly robust archival medium, along with film. Whatever is used in the future to secure digital data needs to rival the simplicity and longevity of what has worked previously.
One solution to ensure that preservation is done with accuracy and authenticity is a technology called DOTS (Digital Optical Technology System). With sufficient magnification, DOTS enables digital files to be stored in an easily readable form for 100-plus years, even in conditions of benign neglect, guaranteeing readability as long as cameras and imaging devices are available. Because it’s nonmagnetic, it’s also immune from accidental erasure or an electromagnetic pulse.
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