The computer age is, ironically, the age of vanishing data. Files become useless because of system "upgrades." Disks go bad. Websites vanish. This happens not just to individuals but to huge organizations and businesses. There's a field of study dedicated to preventing this; it's called “digital preservation.”
BUT — digital preservation today is an obscure niche for people who work in libraries and archives. The books on it are expensive academic volumes. Promoting wide awareness of preservation issues needs a book that's aimed at everygeek. This is the book which I propose to create. It will be called Files that Last, and will be published DRM-free (naturally), as an e-book. A sample chapter is available for download.
Its key elements will be:
- Motivation — Why preservation is important and can be accomplished with a reasonable level of effort.
- Setting of strategy levels — Defining suitable levels of strategy, ranging from the individual user to the big organization with critical data.
- Discussion of backup and archiving — Appropriate methods, redundancy, and use of the Internet.
- Media issues — Assessing the suitability of media for long-term storage.
- Internet concerns — The advantages and risks of information that lives on the Net.
- Metadata — Understanding metadata and its tools, and using them to keep files meaningful.
- Format issues — Choosing formats that give the best chance of longevity.
The target audience will be individual users, system administrators, and students. The reader is assumed to be computer-literate but not a specialist.
E-books make self-publishing a saner proposition than it was in the old days. I'm looking at Smashwords, an electronic distributor that sells DRM-free e-books directly and also markets them through channels such as Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Sony.
E-book publishing doesn't mean I can just throw what I write on the Net and expect anyone to buy it, though. The money from this project will not only help to pay for my time, but will let me get professional proofreading and cover graphic design, both of which are important to a successful book.
I really think the publication of this book will be a milestone in bringing digital preservation to a wider audience. If you agree, I hope you'll support the project.
Risks and challenges
At the start of the project, I've written 30,000 words, between a third and a half of the total. This is a book that requires research. I'm familiar with many aspects of digital preservation, having worked for the Harvard Library for nine years, but there's a lot I'm learning as I'm writing the book. I'll be reaching out to the preservation community and others to help make the information as accurate and complete as possible.
One risk is that I might have to take on other paying work that will consume a large part of my time. In the worst case, this will delay completion of the book. I pledge to finish it regardless, and I'll keep my writing status up to date on garymcgath.com. I have a record of finishing the projects that I commit to, and of doing them on time.
- (36 days)