Issues of Institutional Repositories

18 Apr

This article on the Digital Curation Blog got me to thinking, yet again, about long-term digital preservation. (Which, I suppose, was kind of the point.) I spend a great deal of my work week maintaining and uploading content to DigitalCommons@ILR, the institutional repository for Cornell’s ILR School. It’s a project that was started long before I arrived at Catherwood, and so I’m not trying to take any credit when I say that it’s a major success. We’ve got a majority of the school’s faculty represented in the repository, not to mention tons of workplace documents and collective bargaining agreements that, often, can’t be found anywhere else online.

Thing is, just about everything in DC@ILR is in .pdf format. Day to day, that’s not really a problem: just about everyone with a web browser’s got Acrobat Reader kicking around on their system, if not some other glorious add-on or extension that does the same job in a manner that particular user considers superior. But thinking long-term, it’s an issue that needs to be considered.

Several months ago, I got to chat about this with a gentleman from Cornell’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. He noted some of the issues facing digital preservation, such as the inexorable advance of software and hardware: we love our .pdf’s now, but what happens if they go the way of the 5.25″ floppy? It’s an issue that isn’t fully addressed by archiving documents in their original format; someday, people will stop using those formats, too.

When we discussed this situation in my digital libraries class this semester, an agreement seemed to be reached that keeping abreast of the current trends in file formats and updating your collection accordingly was vital for the long-term viability of an institutional repository. Of course, the cost of such an effort would be terrifying to behold.

So, as someone who’s excited by the work being done at my library, and hoping to be a part of it for a while to come, I’m going to be watching the Digital Curation Blog for a continuation of this discussion. I’ll also be looking for additional research done on this issue. Because while it’s impossible for me to look at the thousands of contracts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the New York State Public Employment Relations Board and not feel pride… I also can’t escape the tiny voice that wonders what’ll happen once people start asking, “Wait, they still use .pdfs?”

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