José Borbinha works at INESC-ID – Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) at Lisbon University, Portugal

(Episode 1) When unsuccessful digital preservation can be convenient

The year of 1998 was special. In May, it opened the Lisbon World Exposition! In June, it was held the “Sixth DELOS Workshop on Preservation of Digital Information” in the beautiful Tomar. Finally, in October, I became CIO of the National Library of Portugal.

In retrospective, 1998 was my definitive commitment with this great world of digital libraries and archives. A seed has been planted in 1996, when I got involved in the new DELOS Working Group on Digital Libraries, and it blossom in 2000 when I had the privilege of organizing the 4th ECDL conference in Lisbon. DELOS was a community that still brings special memories (“saudade” as we say in Portuguese -

In early 1999, I got a phone call from the INESC about an issue in the DELOS project: the expense of the shuttle service between Lisbon and Tomar during the DELOS workshop, which was assured by a minibus of the university, has not been paid. I called the university, and learned the server hosting the application managing the minibus had a crash, and all data of 1998 was lost! I propose to pay the service anyway, but they kindly suggested forgetting it.

That imprint 1998 in my memory: We not only hosted one of the world first scientific events on digital preservation, but is also came with a small “practical lesson” ;-)

(Episode 2) When successful digital preservation can hurt

We had in Portugal elections for the President of the Republic in January 2001, for the Municipalities in December 2001, and for the Parliament in March 2002.

We decided it was time for the National Library of Portugal to use that opportunity to debut on web archiving, harvesting, during the periods of campaign for each of those elections, the web sites of all the candidates, political parties, and online newspapers. It all was prepared and ran smoothly for the President’s election… 

Then, in December, we triggered it again, for the Municipal elections and… disaster!

The day after the first harvest, I got a call from a very upset man. He was the president of a parish (the smallest administrative territorial subdivision in Portugal, called “freguesia”) from a town west of Lisbon. He explained that he had the innovative idea of setting up a web site for the parish (a novelty those days…), and ask the citizens to upload photos of the parish in the site and vote to select the best ones by simply clicking on the preferred images!

A great idea, destroyed when our robot “voted” on any image it could find (naively, the images also were indexed by multiple entries, which made our robot “vote” multiple times, with no control…). I asked the frustrated president why there was not a “robots.txt”, which he was not aware of at all … I then proposed he send us the logs of the server, so we could identify our “votes” that he then could remove, but he also had no idea of what a “log” was…

(Episode x) …

  • Hi… I am focused on a physical information object with an identifier “ISO 14721” and is believed is about a concept named “digital preservation”. The message in that object is expressed in regular English, but I could not find any logical sense in it that could make me understand the concept. I then enlarged my research, and finally I am learning what it is about… It seems “digital preservation” was an issue of the time when humans had to create and manage their own knowledge, just like they had to raise their own food and drive mechanical devices to move from place to place…
  • Ah, you mean, when knowledge management was physical, before the MIND? Yes, I went thru those concepts too… It looks humans had to use physical extensions of their brains in order not to forget knowledge, something they did first using clay, then dry skin and paper, then, for a short period of time computers…
  • By the way, what is your Human avatar doing now?
  • He is enjoying a physical book with an identifier “In Search of Lost Time” and associated to a human of the old physical world with the identifier “Marcel Proust”. And yours?
  • I am worried about mine! She found the computer with the memories of her grand-grandfather, which is why she went through this concept of digital preservation. I tried to move her attention to things more human, but without success…
  • Yes, humans can be obsessed like that. We must acknowledge we still not know the meaning of that… Well, goodbye MIND_MRIAE0981!
  • Goodbye MIND_GJERO7628!

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