Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Data in the cloud and the Library of Alexandria

If you listened to the excellent ABC Background briefing on Cloud Computing, you would have heard the following quote:

Long before the Internet in 1943, IBM chief Thomas Watson famously declared that the world probably only needed five computers. As PCs and laptops multiplied, everyone remembered the prediction and laughed. But with the rise of cloud computing and the mega data centres, no-one is laughing any more.

What does this mean for libraries? What happens when we all rely on a few copies, or server farms, to store our data? You could argue that a lot of knowledge from the ancient world was lost because it was stored in too few places. Yes, there was the Pergamom, Caesarea Maritima, and of course the largest of them all, the Library of Alexandria, but when these were destroyed a lot of western knowledge was lost. Was this a case of not enough back ups?

Unfortunately, throughout history, many of libraries have been destroyed, sometimes accidentally, but often the destruction is deliberate. In his book "Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections Since Antiquity", James Raven talks about the resonance of loss, and he is not just talking about the loss of books. There is a loss of memory, learning, and understanding.

Of course libraries have considered digital preservation. There is www.digitalpreservation.gov, DLF: Digital Preservation, the Digital Preservation Coalition, and the NLA Digital Preservation Policy to name but a few. Is this enough? Do our existing digital preservation frameworks and policies cover us in the world of cloud computing?

Meanwhile back at Alexandria, Luciano Canfora'a book "Vanished Library: a Wonder of the Ancient World" is a great study into this library, its demise, and its impact the city and the ancient world.

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