Digital Degrades: Why Libraries Will Never Abandon Print

[responsive]linda-hall-library-1-600xx1088-1632-68-0[/responsive]Kansas City Journal business reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel is a self-described product of the digital age.

“I’ve been conditioned to believe that anything worth saving is worth saving to an external hard drive,” Pfannenstiel writes in her article “Paperless patents?

She admits is was “naïve” of her to think that digital is the ultimate archiving tool, after speaking with Linda Hall Library president Lisa Browar. Linda Hall is one of 84 Patent and Trademark Resource Centers in the U.S. and contains a printed record of every U.S. patent ever filed.

And Browar insists that, while they are digitizing those records as a secondary storage option, they’ll never go paperless. The reason?

As Browar explains, “one of the reasons we made the determination to remain a print library was because nobody knows exactly how long digital information will survive as a format.

“We know that paper stored under the right conditions can last 500 years, maybe longer,” Browar continued. “But nobody knows about digital technology, as an information storage medium.”

This was surprising to Pfannenstiel, and probably many of our readers, until you consider the relatively short history of digital media and the rapid change it has undergone.

“In just the past 20 years, we’ve had the floppy disk, the compact disk, the flash drive, the external hard drive and, today, the cloud. Good luck predicting how digital information will be stored 20 years from now,” Pfannenstiel notes.

In an increasingly digitized and degradable society, the debate on how to preserve what’s important becomes critical.

“And it sounds a little grandiose, but really that’s what we’re doing,” explains Browar. “We’re making sure that in an age that is increasingly becoming an ephemeral, disposable society, we’re making sure that somehow the product of our society and our intellectual heritage remains intact — that it doesn’t get thrown away.”