Monday, June 11, 2012

Preserving our Heritage with Disruptive Technology

In the current issue of the AARP Bulletin (June 2012)[1] there is a list of common everyday things that various futurists[2] say will be "vanishing" within the next 50 years. Making the list were forms of communication such as land line phones, answering machines, rolodexes, telephone books, "snail mail," and cursive writing as well as film (for SLR film cameras) and other forms of physical media such as CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and flash drives - and equipment that play them. "Electronic entertainment will be bought and played directly from the internet."

Will be? Many of these things are already tidal wave sized trends. For instance, many people are commonly streaming video and music directly from the internet rather than renting DVDs or buying CDs. (Netflix alone claims 25 million streaming members in 2012.)

These so called disruptive innovations affect the economy and the library's long term plans.

Recently, the Darling Library has been revisiting digital preservation issues. What do we do with so many megabytes of text, images, audio and video recordings? This question affects every aspect of the university, but in the library we have been concerned about the archives. As odd as it may sound, the archival function of the library is tightly tied to new technologies. It's not just about keeping leather binding of ancient books from becoming dust. Preservation certainly means keeping harmful light rays and oily finger prints off of fragile materials. But what is the point of having those historical items if no one can access them? Allowing access these days means creating digital online collections so researchers can examine them without ruining them.

That's why we have a digital archives.

In the archives at Hope, we do have some rare books, but the most significant items are the one-of-a-kind items unique to our institution. For the sake of preserving institutional history and heritage in the long term, an archivist must understand digital formats and their limitations. This is complicated by the fact that digital technologies are too new to know how they will stand the test of time and they are constantly in flux as improvements are made. The challenge is to keep up with or, better yet, anticipate and stay ahead of the changes.

Take, for example, the more than thirty-five years of recorded chapel messages that the library houses -- most of which were recorded on analog cassette tapes. Now we are trying to transfer these recordings to digital formats before the tapes disintegrate. Best practices require us to store them in multiple formats and locations for redundancy in case of corruption or disaster. This takes a lot of time and memory storage space. Downloading and streaming requires adequate bandwidth and server capacity. Even though the cost of memory has shrunk over the years, it is still expensive to purchase and maintain adequate servers for the job.

Due to limited space, only chapel messages for the current and the previous semesters are stored on the library's web server. All digital recordings are also saved on CDs and an inexpensive external hard drive unit. (This may not be an adequate long term preservation practice but it will have to do for now.)

We also employ a cloud solution, uploading chapel recordings (both those that were born digital and those that are being migrated from analog) to Hope's iTunes-U account.  This way, they are available indefinitely to anyone with a personal iTunes account. That is, as long as Apple maintains the service and we maintain our account. 

To go to our iTunes-U account you must have iTunes installed on your device. 

To listen to chapel messages in iTunes:
  • Go to the library's home page (
  • >Search Tools (drop down menu)
  • >Chapel Messages
  • Find a message you want to hear and click on "Download in iTunes" 
  • This will open iTunes on your computer to the HIU account where the current year is listed. To find past recordings, click on "More from Hope..." in the left column.
You may also find Hope International University's full iTunes-U listing in the iTunes Store list of Universities & Colleges under the Quick Links.


[1] Towner, Betsy. Vanishing. AARP Bulletin. June 2012. p. 43.
[2] Sources consulted by Towner: AT&T, Vint Cerf, Michio Kaku, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC,, New York Times, Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Time, Richard Watson,

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