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Does digital publication guarantee preservation?

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Publication of ebooks does not necessarily guarantee that a work will be available for posterity.

St. Johns College (Cambridge) Library
St. Johns College (Cambridge) Library

As the publication world is dragged, kicking and screaming, into the digital world, a lot of complex issues come up. One of the most important, especially for librarians and archivists (not to mention students of history looking to the future), is the question of preservation. Logic tells us that the move from physical, degradable old books to ebooks will be a positive one for the evolution of preservation, that we should be able to save more — or even everything — moving forward into the glorious clouded future.

The problem, says Barbara Galletly reporting for Digital Book World, is that the foundation for such a transition has not been properly laid, digital preservation is a largely chaotic, random affair right now, and the metadata itself is unstable. She argues that there aren't any agreed upon standards, or systematic methods of preservation. Of course, saving everything should be the goal, since people are often terrible judges of what will be deemed "great art" or even entertaining to the humans of the future.

Of course, another massive issue we'll have to come to terms with moving forward is whether or not the task of digital preservation should be the work of private companies. Historically, small archives, universities, and government-funded libraries (such as the Library of Congress) all over the world have taken it upon themselves to do this work, but increasingly the work is being done by companies like Google.