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Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Information

  • Jeff Rothenberg


The year is 2045, and my grandchildren (as yet unborn) are exploring the attic of my house (as yet unbought). They find a letter dated 1995 and a CD-ROM (compact disk). The letter claims that the disk contains a document that provides the key to obtaining my fortune (as yet unearned). My grandchildren are understandably excited, but they have never seen a CD before—except in old movies—and even if they can somehow find a suitable disk drive, how will they run the software necessary to interpret the information on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital document?



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Archival Management of Electronic Records, Archives and Museum Informatics Technical Report no. 13, Bearman, David, ed., Archives and Museum Informatics, Pittsburgh, 1991 (ISSN 1042-1459).
Bolter, Jay David. “Text and Technology: Reading and Writing in the Electronic Age.” Library Resources and Technical Services, 31 (January/March 1987), pp. 1223.
Hedstrom, Margaret. “Understanding Electronic Incunabula: A Framework for Research on Electronic Records,” The American Archivist, 54:3 (Summer 1991), pp. 334–54.
Michelson, Avra and Rothenberg, Jeff. “Scholarly Communication and Information Technology: Exploring the Impact of Changes in the Research Process on Archives,” The American Archivist, 55:2 (Spring 1992), pp. 236315 (ISSN 0360-9081).
Research Issues in Electronic Records, published for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Washington, D.C., by the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn. 1991.
Rothenberg, Jeff. “Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents,” Scientific American, January 1995 (Vol. 272, Number 1), pp. 2429.
Metadata to Support Data Quality and Longevity,” The First IEEE Metadata Conference, April 16–18, 1996, NOAA Auditorium, NOAA Complex, Silver Spring, MD, available only online at
Taking a byte out of history: the archival preservation of federal computer records. Report of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Operations, Nov. 6. 1990 (House Report 101-978).

Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Information

  • Jeff Rothenberg


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