The Internet: The High-Acid Paper of the 21st Century?

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby magicam » 07/17/04 11:21 PM

The Internet: The High-Acid Paper of the 21st Century?

I read the "Genii Index" thread in this section with interest. My then-complete file of Genii was sold in the early 1980's to finance my college education (wish I had it back). The merits of the Genii index project are obvious, and I hope a server home is found soon.

The current lack of a web host for this project raised a subject near and dear to my heart and the subject of an essay I am writing for an upcoming issue of Historians' Guide to Conjuring (Redux) (shameless plug, but true - guys and gals, please read my post in the "Collectors Marketplace" section under "New Ltd. Edition of Collector's Book Is Ready" and please support this project if the subject matter interests you).

Most of you are probably aware of the richness and diversity of information available on the web. Now, it is true that much information on the web is available by other means, but there is no doubt that some information - some very valuable information - exists only on the internet. Take this forum, for example. Amongst the flotsam and future coprolites here exist some real gems of information, recollections, and ideas.

The question raised here is, what can be done to preserve such information?

My subject heading refers to high-acid paper, and quite a few of you may know that many of the "pulps" published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are disintegrating right before our eyes. And many of them are magic books. Take, for example, Hardin J. Burlingame's "Bibliotheca Magica," published in 1898 and bound in with the third volume of his "Tricks in Magic series. The paper used was atrociously high-acid stock and in almost every copy existing today the paper is so fragile that bending it will cause it to break. Without treating this paper with an expensive acid wash, almost all copies will probably be dust in the next hundred years.

Even worse, if that's possible, is the paper used to print Robert Ganthony's "Random Recollections," which is quite a scarce book. It's sad to say that reading copies of this book using the utmost in care will cause irreversible deterioration.

Now, these books may not be the high points of our literature, but they ARE part of our literature and valuable for that reason, if nothing else. As it happens, Burlingames bibliography, though much of it was lifted from Henry Evans bibliography published a year before, documents an important step in the history of conjuring bibliography, and Ganthonys book is one of the earliest extended biographical accounts of a British society entertainer.

At least a dedicated (and well-heeled) collector or institution has a chance over the next few decades to preserve these and other titles.

BUT WITH THE INTERNET, ITS NOT A QUESTION OF DECADES, BUT OF A NANOSECOND.

A flip of the switch can cause the permanent death of information on the internet. In my area of interest (magic history and bibliography), there are a few websites out there which have information found nowhere else. Gary Hunts Magical Pastimes is an example. I dont know if Gary has saved all the iterations of his website on disk or tape, but I hope so.

Admittedly, theres probably a lot of junk out there, but by the same token a lot of the junk from the 1800s is now fetching high prices amongst collectors, and its hard for us to predict what future generations will find valuable about our culture and its offspring.

I dont have the answer(s) to my question, and am posing it not so much in the hopes of getting a technical answer (it seems that saving this information to a permanent medium is the answer?) as to suggest that now is the time to think about the question before more information is lost.

Happily, even if all the hard work and contributions of some of you folks on the Genii index project are permanently lost, the index can be rebuilt because plenty of complete files of Genii exist. The fact that this work, alas, may have to be done again is small solace to those who have contributed their valuable time, but at least it can be done.

The really sad part of all of this is that we risk losing information which cannot be recovered or reconstituted.

Does anyone share this concern? Your thoughts?

Best wishes,

Clay Shevlin
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 07/17/04 11:37 PM

Originally posted by Magicam:
[QB]

The question raised here is, what can be done to preserve such information?
Well, in highly technical terms, it's called a "backup" or perhaps one can use a "mirror" which decentralizes your data to many locations making the loss of any one "mirror" inconsequential.

A flip of the switch can cause the permanent death of information on the Internet.
And a flip of the switch can bring back a properly stored backup.
.... as to suggest that now is the time to think about the question before more information is lost.
IT guys think about it all the time. Disaster recovery and proper back ups (daily and sometimes hourly) coupled with saving your data in a non propriety format put a lot of these fears to rest.

If people do not value their data enough to properly back it up and archive it, they probably deserve to eventually lose it.
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Postby magicam » 07/18/04 12:18 AM

Thanks for the input, Chris.

Although Im not very savvy about computers, yes it does seem that redundancy and the saving to permanent media go a long way towards putting these fears to rest. In that sense, maybe Im crying wolf here?

There may indeed be technical answers to this question, but Id like to suggest that there is more to it than that. Assuming data is indeed saved by the IT guys, the next question, it seems to me, is what is to be done with it after it is saved? My guess would be that most IT guys dont themselves save everything they back up (maybe they do?), and they let the owners worry about how and for how long the data will be stored.

Perhaps its not practical to save every electronic scrap of information, but with todays storage technology, maybe it is? In light of your comments, perhaps it all boils down to raising awareness of the value of saving the data for future generations.

And for that reason, I respectfully disagree with one point you make. You wrote If people do not value their data enough to properly back it up and archive it, they probably deserve to eventually lose it. Id like to suggest that the focus on the one deserving such data loss is misplaced.

In the context of your comment, my focus is not on the one who saves or loses the data but on the potential loss of information to future historians (as I wrote, its hard for us to predict what future generations will find valuable about our culture and its offspring). I believe that history bears this concern out, as one often hears the lament that this or that bit of information wasnt saved which could have answered what is today an important question amongst historians.

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Postby Bob Kentner » 07/18/04 06:33 AM

Clay,
You bring up a good point.

As far as the technical part of preserving the data. If the person is using a third part web host then those servers are backed up by the the provider. As an IT guy, this is rule one. We don't care what the data is. That is the concern of the owner of the data.

I don't agree with Chris that people that don't backup deserve to lose their data. Most computer users are blissfully ignorant of how computers work and the need for backups. And most, even if the new of the need, would not even know where to start in creating a backup. That's why they pay me to think of these things and how to implement them.

I think the real problem is more in the intentional loss of this data. If the owner dies or can no longer afford to run the web site. Or if the owner loses interest in the project. Someone who accumulated a large amount of historical data and decides it is time to change hobbies. Some quick work with the delete key and he has more room on his website for his new hobby.

I've seen this problem in other areas that I'm interested in. A wonderful resource on the web is there one day and gone the next.

I wish I could give you a good solution for the problem, But with a medium with no checks and little cost to access I don't see this being resolved in the near future.

Bob
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/18/04 07:19 AM

Are you folks familiar with the Wayback Machine?

http://web.archive.org

It recently helped me out in finding Leipzig's autobiography that was on a website which apparently no longer exists. (Does anyone know what happened to Magical Pasttimes?)

-Jim
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Postby Gary Hunt » 07/18/04 09:09 AM

Let me start out by saying that Magical Past-Times: the On-Line Journal of Magic History is alive and well at: www.illusionata.com/mpt/ . I turned over the editing and hosting duties to Todd Karr becase he has the resources to take MPT to the next level. So keep an eye open for some great new material. I can now concentrate on what I enjoy most, researching and writing about magic history, and NOT writing code and worrying about content.

Clay is right that electronic information can be the high-acid paper of the 21st Century. However, it can also be the savior of the high-acid paper of the previous centuries. As with any new technology it has given us a paradox.

The recent events with MPT are a good example of what can happen in the electronic age. Richard Robinson provided the server space, technical support and more importantly the moral support to keep MPT alive for so many years. It was a great partnership, but as people noticed the number of updates became fewer and fewer as other priorities took my time. I realized it was either time to stop publishing MPT (and it would just become electronic history) or pass it on to someone who could keep mine and Fred Evans vision alive. Todd Karr volunteered and so MPT got a new home and URL. It is now back online and I have to work with Richard to get the redirect to the new URL working. But in the mean time MPT was off line.and boy did I hear about it.

It shows how easily electronic information on the Internet could just, and does, vanish overnight. It has nothing to do with backing up data. Most of the magic related sites are done as a hobby or sideline by dedicated people (though a few like Richards sites are more than full time jobs). If they cannot afford the site, move on or their interest wanes the site comes down and all is forever lost to the rest of the magic community. This is just reality in the on-line community. Does anyone remember Spidernet? In the days before the Internet when Bulletin Boards were the one way to exchange information on-line, Richard Robinsons Spidernet was one of the premier sites. I hosted the Collectors Forum and we had some great discussions. Now where is all that information today? Just on Richards hard drives and a few printouts in my files. Not much help to the historians of the future.

One of the problems with researching magic history is that printed sources really do not give you the feel of a person. Personal letters are one of the few ways to begin to understand the soul of a performer. So what are researches in 25 years going to have? With the advent of e-mail most personal correspondence will be lost, and so will the needed insights. I hate to be at a collectors conference in 50 years and hear what they have to say about electronic information.

The good news is that new technology can capture some of those publications that are falling into what is called in my house Sphinx dust. Burlingame's bibliography is a good example as are early copies of the Sphinx. However care has to be taken into how the images are captured, preserved and accessed. Proprietary data/image management systems can become unsupported or obsolete and then we have disks full of useless information. This is an area that scares me most and one that I would like to see more fully discussed.

Now a question to askwhat will happen to the Genii Forum? Will researches in 50 years be able to access its wonderful sources of information?

Gary Hunt
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Postby Michael Edwards » 07/18/04 11:12 AM

Clay:

You pose and interesting -- and vexing -- question. In fact, Gary and I were discussing aspects of this very issue while he was in Washington, DC earlier this week. We should be most appreciative of his efforts to keep Magical Past-times available for future readers, researchers, and just plain browsers (no pun intended :D ). Sadly, far too many other magic websites, e-zines, discussion groups, and cyberspots have not fared so well. Some have literally vanished into cyberspace; some exist in formats no longer decipherable or supported; others remain extant only in hard copy remnants...printed out on dot matrix and early laser printers of questionable quality by those of us trying to save, amass, hoard, and otherwise keep our hands around these most ephemeral of publications. I still miss the wonderful Merlin's Web and constantly lament the erosion of alt.magic.history, the newsgroup that Gary Brown and I worked so hard and so long to create. But the chalenges of the digital age don't only exist in cyberspace. I have a drawer full of old diskettes of magic material whose formats are now obsolete and whose contents are now virtually impenetrable. Today, the solution isn't as simple as keeping a printed version of everything. Indeed, one of the remarkable aspects of electronic publications is they are NOT confined to the printed page...they can be interactive, include moving images, harness sound...indeed, they can be "living" periodicals. But how does one keep them "alive" for future generations. Perhaps now is the time to begin putting together a comprehensive bibliography of electronic and cyber conjuring periodicals. Then, at least, someone might know where to begin to look.

Moreover, future historians will have to contend -- as Gary suggests -- with other challenges as well. Research already shows us that individuals communicate differently when using email rather than when using the old fashioned letters. Instant Messaging and the now ubiquitous telephone are rapidly replacing the formal letter. And increasingly photographic images are being stored not on paper but on the hard drives of computers whose effective life is now often less than five years and whose fate is more often than not a garbage dump.

And so it goes...

Michael
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Postby magicam » 07/18/04 11:29 AM

Bob Kentner wrote: I've seen this problem in other areas that I'm interested in. A wonderful resource on the web is there one day and gone the next. I wish I could give you a good solution for the problem, But with a medium with no checks and little cost to access I don't see this being resolved in the near future.

Yours and Chris Aguilars comments are valuable because they present points of view from guys who are in the business. So thank you.

It sounds like many of us would agree that valuable internet information is being - and will be lost to future generations. As Bob points out, absent backup by the individual date owners, perhaps all that can be said and done right now is to raise awareness of this problem and make a plea for data backup?

Jim Maloneys good post suggests that there are folks out there on the web who share this concern. The website Jim gave us can only be a good thing. With storage technology advancing in leaps and bounds as with other computer technology, perhaps this sort of archiving, on a larger scale, is the solution. And perhaps the organization that assigns web domains could assess a small surcharge (to fund the archiving) and require that each web domain owner send backups of his or her website to a sort of archive clearinghouse? Maybe it would be hard to police, but at least it might result in some websites being preserved that would otherwise be lost.

Yes, there will be trash preserved as part of such an archiving project, but to reiterate the point about one mans trash is another mans treasure, how often do we see a PBS special where archaeologists joyously celebrate the discovery of a dump site in an old Roman fort?

Its great to hear that Garys and Freds MPT is alive and well. Good news! And those of you who havent visited the MPT website should do so, as there is some great historical information there.

Gary wrote: electronic information can be the high-acid paper of the 21st Century. However, it can also be the savior of the high-acid paper of the previous centuries Great point. And websites arent the only ones working on this sort of preservation. Some folks are working to preserve ephemeral publications on CD-ROM. In the field of magic books, Lybrary.com (led by Chris Wasshuber) is one of the companies doing this and I hope they stay in business for a long, long time.

And Gary makes another great point about the preservation of e-mails, a matter addressed in my essay but not mentioned in my original post. As Gary correctly points out, correspondence can give wonderful insight into the personalities doing the corresponding and may be the only source of personal information. The high prices of old letters from some of the past greats bears out the historical value of correspondence, among other things.

For example, over the past two decades I have been privileged to engage in extended correspondence with Dr. Edwin A. Dawes (surely the finest conjuring historian living today) on a variety of historical and bibliographical matters. And over the past few years, our correspondence has nearly always been done by e-mail. But it was only in the past few months that I realized that I had better back up my e-mail correspondence with him and others. Now, thankfully, it is preserved just in case future historians find it of interest.

Of course, quite a bit of what is exchanged by e-mail may not be very important, but as Gary points out it can at least provide insight into the personalities (whether they be the likes of Eddie Dawes or the lesser lights like me) doing the corresponding.

Thanks for your thoughts guys and I hope others jump in with theirs.

Finally, to RK (and echoing Garys question), is GF (even the posts which are no longer on the website) being archived? To reiterate, theres some great information, recollections and chatter here.
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Postby magicam » 07/18/04 11:32 AM

Michael: Didn't have the benefit of your post when I was doing my latest, but you also raise some great points. Just wanted you to know that I wasn't ignoring your thoughtful comments when I replied to the other guys. C.
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Postby Michael Edwards » 07/18/04 11:48 AM

Thank you, Clay. Which only points out another remarkable aspect of this medium -- its immediacy.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 07/18/04 12:12 PM

Look, even the most non tech savvy folks have it beaten into their heads that they must back up data that is important to them. I'd wager just about any student or worker has (at one time) lost an important file simply for lack of backing it up. If those folks do not realize that data on the web must be equally protected, I frankly do not have much sympathy for them. Ignorance isn't an excuse for me here, knowing that (IMHO) the vast majority of computer users out there have been exposed to the need to archive/backup data on their local machines.

As far as losing data to propriety formats, that is indeed an issue. But if it is text alone that one wants to protect, there are multiple open formats that can easily be supported no matter what the future holds in terms of hardware or other formats.

For instance, small utilities have been written that will take posts on a forum such as this (or mine) and translate the threads into easily portable plain text files. A very basic format like ".txt" likely isn't going anywhere soon. Future technologies will easily (and likely)support it.

For instance, many classic video games no longer exist or or produced in their original form (format). However, today, even though their "format" no longer exists, one can play pixel perfect versions of Pacman and space invaders on todays technology due to the joys of emulation. It's quite possible that "format emulators" will exist for data that is in a propriety form today. Heck, it's already here, as there are non Microsoft products that do a darn good job of reading/writing to the very propriety MS .doc (word) and .XLS (Excel) formats. So even if MS goes out of business some day (don't laugh!) that data will still be recoverable. In the event that the .txt format did fade out in time, one could always print out the text one wanted to save on some high quality media (archival quality cd, acid free paper, etc.) to preserve it for another generation. Regardless of format, I'd be willing to wager that OCR (Optical Character Recognition) will improve and be available to translate hard copy text back into a supported digital format in the future. So there are a myriad of ways to keep information from "vanishing".

However, all the above require a few little things called forethought and commitment. And if the data is important to one, I don't think it onerous to ask that that one sees to its longevity. I'll reiterate that if folks cannot be bothered to make the commitment to preserve their data, they are foolish to believe that simply having it on the web will somehow preserve it forever. I do not buy "technological ignorance" as an excuse.

As with the student who loses their term paper for lack of a backup, perhaps folks will have to lose something they value on the web to learn the intrinsic value of protecting/backing up that data. Many (if not most) web hosts run a little thing called Cpanel (control panel) that has a very prominent button that allows one to backup ones whole site to their local computer with one click. Why should I feel sorry for people who cannot be bothered to avail themselves of such a simplistic solution? (Unless some feel it's too "high tech" to ask someone to click a button) On one's local machine, one takes personal responsibility for backing up/preserving their data. Why should the web be any different?

I wonder if Richard keeps daily backups of this forum in a form that will survive for the next generation?


Just for fun. Want to see what the Genii website looked like back in \'98?
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Postby magicam » 07/18/04 12:53 PM

Hey Chris: Thanks again for your thoughts.

The old Genii website was VERY cool to see, kinda like seeing a vintage model of a newer-model car! Again, very nifty to see and thanks for the link.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, doesnt the fact that somebody took the time and made the effort of preserving (for example) the old Genii website say something about what people OTHER than the creator of a website value?

To a significant degree, its difficult to argue with your opinion and observations, especially for me since I am largely ignorant about the technology you are so obviously familiar with. And yes, it appears that there are a myriad of ways of preserving data, and yes, there may be people who dont take responsibility or have the foresight to preserve what they create, and yes, perhaps data can be reconstituted into electronic form.

But let me ask this question: do you agree that, for whatever reason (failure of backups, laziness, ignorance, etc.), valuable information is being lost and that it would be nice if it were preserved for future generations? If yes, then should the practical focus on a going forward basis be on those who fail to preserve it, or on alternative ways to preserve it? In the context of your thoughts, IMHO I think thats what we are talking about here.

Just my thoughts.

Clay
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Postby Marco Pusterla » 07/18/04 01:40 PM

Hi, everybody!
my day-to-day business involves supporting newspapers in their production and (hear hear) the management of their digital archives... I'm too aware of the necessity of preserving copies of existing data, and NEVER rely on the faith that the current hardware/software solution you implemented is fine... Recently, a customer of mine had a hardware failure in their archive server and they lost untold amount of digital pictures, going back 10 years or so, most un-replaceable.

Why this? They relied on the automatic "error-correction" of the disks and never backed up the data (some gigabytes, to be honest).

Their fault? Perhaps. Do they deserve it? Perhaps. Does the community at large deserve such a loss? I don't think so. Some of that material had political implications and may be used to re-write history in some years time.

This is not the case with most magical information... lot of it is junk (let's admit it!) and the rest is probably not so important for the political history of a country. But magical records are, nonetheless, important for a few "loonies" :D who find pleasure in them.

The point that Chris is raising (if I understand well), is in the need to increase awareness on the importance of data backup, be this your magical files, or your kid's school work.

Much data can be retrieved from either obsolete formats (I wrote programs to do that...) or damaged supports (my kid had the bad habit to have ONLY ONE copy of his school work on a floppy disk, which he cleverly put under an can of soda... the day before completing it and giving it to school :( ), but much stress and frustration could be spared if some care is put in the safeguard of data.

Luckily, when data is published on the Internet, potentially a great number of users can copy it to their disk. Somebody mentioned "Merlin's Web". As a matter of fact, I contributed a minor trick to that magazine (which I dearly miss) and, as it happens, I have a copy of some (most?) of the issues published, stored safely away on a CD. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have kept a copy of that site...

But I'm aware I SHOULD NOT rely on a CD which I burn in 1996... Knowing how volatile technology is, every 2 or 3 years I put the data back on the hard disk, and burn another CD... This is a safe enough step (today...) to safeguard this information. And it's also cheap... everybody can afford it...

What I see as a major problem, is that it doesn't yet exist a uniform magical storage project (I don't know if the term is correct), whereby we have a unique way to identify and find magical data on the Web.

At the moment, we have magic shops, historical sites (MPT), bullettin boards, newsgroups, mailing lists, private groups, web-zines (free and not), etc. and the information is scattered all over the place. The historian in 50 years time, supposing he (or she) will have access to all this electronical data, will have a hard time to navigate it all. I don't even want to think to what will happen if the historian will only have access to (say) one resource, like (say) the posts on MagicTalk! :)

To cut a long post short: I think the average computer user should be made more aware of the necessity of data safeguard (come on, Mr. Gates: it won't be thaaaaat difficult to implement an automatic backup in Window$...) but the magic community should also try to define some guidelines on the catalogation and indexing of magical data on the web... like a Magic Club's library, but of computer files...

Just my 2 cents (pennies, in the UK... ;) ).

All the best, ciao!
Marco Pusterla - http://www.mpmagic.com

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Postby CHRIS » 07/18/04 02:27 PM

Originally posted by Michael Edwards:
Perhaps now is the time to begin putting together a comprehensive bibliography of electronic and cyber conjuring periodicals. Then, at least, someone might know where to begin to look.
Michael, not exactly what you are asking for, but at least a start in the right direction: I have started to collect the history of magic ebooks. Look for "Tracing the History of Magic Ebooks" in my Essay section at http://www.lybrary.com/

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Postby Guest » 07/18/04 04:35 PM

Clay,

Luckily for me and all other GENII fans, Graham DID have a backup. Opening the Open Genii Index Project again today was a very simple task. Graham sent me a zip containing all the PHP files and a backup of the MySQL database. I imported the database, uploaded the files, and the process was virtually complete. I did have to change a few links, etc., but it was very nice to have the information, initially entered a few years ago, so easily available.

Cameron
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/18/04 04:41 PM

Originally posted by gary hunt:
Let me start out by saying that Magical Past-Times: the On-Line Journal of Magic History is alive and well at: www.illusionata.com/mpt/ . I turned over the editing and hosting duties to Todd Karr becase he has the resources to take MPT to the next level. So keep an eye open for some great new material. I can now concentrate on what I enjoy most, researching and writing about magic history, and NOT writing code and worrying about content.
THANK YOU, GARY! I'm glad to see this project isn't lost. It was somewhat of a shock to me to go to the old URL and find that the site was no longer there, and that I couldn't turn anything up in any searches I did. Thanks for providing the new URL.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 07/18/04 05:29 PM

Even if the latest discussion about variations and crediting are lost to the bit bucket...

Somewhere, a student in grade school or Jr High school will find out about the 21 card trick and the four burglers... and life will go on.

And by that time, perhaps the Hofzinser books may be available in English.
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Postby Michael Edwards » 07/18/04 05:50 PM

Or, without history to guide him, he'll think he has invented visible coins across :D
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Postby magicam » 07/18/04 07:28 PM

Great to hear it, Cameron. Sounds like the folks responsible for the Genii index project did what Chris A. and the other IT experts here said should be done. Chalk one up for posterity.... Clay
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Postby magicam » 07/18/04 07:30 PM

...and lordy, Jonathan, people think MY writing is rather chewy to the cerebral palate :D

C.
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Postby Guest » 07/18/04 11:12 PM

It was said, in this post-letter-writing age, that the telephone, was the biographer's enemy...what does that mean for email and other electronic communication? Although we now have audio/film/video, to record personalities/performers.

On another note, BEWARE of craze of the thinking brittle hard copies of material can/are being better preserved by electronic media.
Read, "Double Fold-The Libraries Assault on Paper", by Nicholson Baker...."libraries", colleges and others are DUMPING wharehouses of material, thinking they have it on micro-film, when properly preserved, some papers can outlive the micro-film!...and you are not just left with bad/out-of-focus reproductions.
Baker says there is not a complete run of the N.Y. Times, anywhere in the U.S....ditto for many newspapers/periodicals and books.
Hold on to your hard copies...you'll be glad you did.
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Postby magicam » 07/19/04 12:23 AM

Interesting information, Diego.

Anent your comment about the destruction of books in favor of microfiche, there is also a very sad bibliographical element to this. As you are probably aware, descriptive bibliography is a science which aims to provide fairly exact physical descriptions of books. Without the physical object, of course, there can be no bibliographical description. This has potentially huge implications for future textual critics and editors, who in doing their work depend to a significant degree on the work of bibliographers.

Your comment regarding no complete files of the New York Times is also interesting. I was under the impression that all major US newspapers print a dozen or so copies of their papers on linen rag paper for the very purpose of preservation.
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Postby Marco Pusterla » 07/19/04 12:52 AM

Hi!
Your comment regarding no complete files of the New York Times is also interesting. I was under the impression that all major US newspapers print a dozen or so copies of their papers on linen rag paper for the very purpose of preservation.
I don't know what is the situation in the USA, but I can confirm that nothing of that kind happens in the UK. Every newspaper in the country sendsone or more printed copies to the British Library, which then will scan them and file on microfiches. The newspapers themselves do not keep paper copies of their publications for archive purpose (with some exception... most keep the last two years only) due to fire risk: many insurance companies would not insure a building against fire if this is choked-full with all newspapers...

The British Librarym, on the other hand, stores the newspapers collection separately than its books (in a building 5 miles away). Microfiches are also at risk to catch fire, though, and I think I heard about projects to store the material in digital form.

While having publications stored on microfilm is better than nothing, the media is hardly user-friendly for quick searches. With modern technology, every publisher can quickly generate its work in PDF format (or other formats... I'm mentioning PDF as it is the industry standard for newspapers in the UK), which will be easy to store (a file on disk) and fully searchable (unless it's a scan of a page... :rolleyes: duh!), but I don't see this as going to happen any soon yet... libraries (rightfully so!) would prefer to wait until a technology is mature and fully reliable.

Soooooooo.... don't hope that newspapers are too interested in what historians will do in 100 years time.... :)
Marco Pusterla - http://www.mpmagic.com

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Postby Guest » 07/19/04 10:12 AM

Yes, Diego, I read a long, long article by Nicholson Baker in, I believe, Harper's or some such several years ago, and it was truly eye opening. People unnecessarily denigrate paper when it can be preserved with care.

While reading the article, I envisioned how easily lots of our most valuable paper could be preserved by creating climate-controlled warehouses in a state that has some of the cheapest real estate in the country, like Kansas or S. Dakota.

As I recall, Baker pointed out that some "experts" have talked about newspapers "turning to dust," when this term really describes nothing that happens in the real world.
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Postby magicam » 07/19/04 10:37 AM

David:

A friendly quibble: if not dust then, alas, a brown pile of grated paper.

C.
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Postby Guest » 07/20/04 02:53 AM

According to Baker, the most complete run of the N.Y. Times, is in England!
No, newspapers do not/have not put hard copies on linen or anything else, for some time. Too many have either been "recorded" on microfilm and the newpapers discarded, or sometimes just thrown out...especially as more papers have closed, merged, or moved.
Some newspapers "files", have been hacked up, as they sold the front pages of editions, as birthday presents!("What was happening on your birthday? Just send $19.95....")

A terrible example, is when the new, modern San Francisco downtown library was built, to make room for the computers, and displays, and other pretty stuff, they DUMPED, secretly in a landfill, 200,000 books, (count 'em) gone forever...maybe some old magic books no one ever checked out.....
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 07/20/04 06:48 AM

Originally posted by David Groves:
...As I recall, Baker pointed out that some "experts" have talked about newspapers "turning to dust," when this term really describes nothing that happens in the real world.
I have such papers, and comic books. they shrivel up into friable brown kindling.

On the other hand, I recall handling newspapers from two hundred years ago that were dark and a bit brittle, though far less crumbly than newspaper from just a couple of decads ago.


Or perhaps, you mean the TV show 'real world' ?
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Postby David Alexander » 07/20/04 09:48 AM

There is always the human equation in preserving history. My hometown newspaper - the Long Beach Press-Telegram - has no real archive before the mid-1950s, while the local library has a near-complete run of the paper on microfilm, but no index to the material. Previously, two old ladies ran the newspaper's library (don't call it the morgue), but they didn't like FDR. Anything that reflected favorably on him was tossed as well as anything else they didn't like. What was left was useless.

Given the changing nature of techonolgy, there is considerable debate amongst museum people as to how paper material should be "preserved" as today's "cutting edge" technology is outmoded and obsolete in a few years, necessitating re-conversion to the newer technology which costs money.

On top of that you have the battle between the preservationists who simply want to preserve the "book as artifact" and vigorously oppose any exposure to bright light that copying/scanning entails and researchers who want access to the information. I've had several spirited debates with librarians over that, especially when trying to get info out of a book that hasn't been looked at in decades, but the librarian is reluctant to "damage" it by having relevant pages copied.
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Postby David Alexander » 07/20/04 09:52 AM

Re: "Newspapers turning to dust."

This depends on the acid content of the paper and its exposure to air and sunlight. When dug up, old newspapers that have been buried in landfills look relatively unchanged because they've been protected from air and ultraviolet radiation.

Further, newspapers and pulp magazines were designed to be read and discarded, not preserved for a hundred years.
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Postby David Alexander » 07/20/04 10:01 AM

A clarification - beginning sometimes in the mid-1800s, paper was made using wood pulp and acid sizing. This process had a two-edged effect: the price of paper dropped, but so did its longevity, which is why the Library of Congress and other large institutions have de-acidifying processes to preserve books printed on this acid-sized paper.
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Postby magicam » 07/23/04 09:59 AM

David:

Interesting thoughts on the "human equation." so many factors in preserving history and perhaps it's a minor miracle that we have what we have today. Imagine what has been lost...

Regarding the exposure of old books to light, that's a legitimate concern IMHO, and it seems obvious that taking quality scans or photographs of every title is not financially feasible. That said, institutions could take the same approach that The Huntington does: when they get a request for a scan/photograph of the book in question, they control EVERYTHING and do the photography in-house. The cost to the person desiring the scans/photographs is relatively high, but the quality of the scans/photographs is very good and this seems a small price to pay to address light-exposure concerns. And if done correctly the first time, then the scans/photographs can be archived and made available to the next generation without further risk of degradation to the book in question.

Side note: I live in Tustin in OC and visit John Booth regularly in Rossmoor. Hope we can meet someday.

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