Lourdes Fuentes-Hashimoto

Lourdes Fuentes-Hashimoto

Last updated on 21 November 2018

Lourdes Fuentes-Hashimoto is Archivist for Total in Paris, France

When you hear the word “obsolescence” what do you spontaneously think about? I asked the question to a dozen random coworkers, who are neither archivists nor digital preservation specialists. The majority immediately think of planned or built-in obsolescence, that is to say the fact of designing something with an artificially limited useful life so it become quickly unfunctional or unusable. They mentioned “my washing machine” or “my smartphone” as examples. Other colleagues’ quick-fire answer was “something being out of date” or “outmoded” and consequently useless.

I often hear people, outside and within the archival profession, discussing which file format they need to use or which software they need to implement and, last but not least, which powerful, cheap and sustainable storage solution will prevent us from suffering the consequences of technical obsolescence. But, any technology whatsoever will certainly become obsolete. At some point, no file format, no software, no infrastructure will be spared.  It also applies to digital repositories intended to store digital materials in order to keep them useful. A few years ago, I was responsible for migrating an outdated digital repository and its 3 million digital archives. I have to say that file formats were never an issue in this case. That does not mean of course that file formats are not a problem in the long term. Designing a new system involved thinking about why the old system lasted only five years and had a short life considering the fact that, in many cases, we need to preserve files up to 25 years. I came to the conclusion that digital preservation must be the capacity of designing planned or built-in scalability that is to say the fact of creating an evolving system and not only from a purely technical point of view. The cost of maintaining a digital repository over the years must be analyzed as well. Digital preservation is also the capacity of designing methods for preventing outdatedness.

I finally asked a few colleagues what is, in their opinion and not according to the dictionary, the opposite of “obsolete/obsolescence”. They said “something new”, “up to date” and “valid”. If you ask me, I will probably say scalability.

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