Two Letters Re: Preserving a Digital Library


I work for a large, three-letter computer manufacturer with a penchant for Blue.

Joe Ax’s comments about the problems with maintaining a digital library are right on the money. When I worked in our Storage Division (hard disks, tapes, etc.), this issue came up during a talk on medical systems’ storage needs. There is a requirement for medical records to be maintained 100 years, and yet no computer data storage system has been designed to do this.

So what is the ‘solution’? 

It seems that doctor’s offices are cajoled/required/encouraged to upgrade their office systems on average of about every five years. In so doing, all of their old records are transferred to the new system. This side-steps the problem without actually solving it.

While I am a big fan of digital libraries, I think that every book/document which is  absolutely essential to a prepper be ‘backed up’ by keeping a print copy on high quality  paper. At the present time, this is the most practical solution I am aware of.

Best Regards, – Bear

As the author of the original article I wanted to wait for a while to try and address several of the issues (all good points) raised, and clarify why I made the various choices I did in my suggestions.

Some responses seem to have missed my main thrust which was bringing this concept in at the best matrix between cost, accessibility, usability, longevity, and availability of surplus gear. Obviously this type of matrix has some degree of subjectivity.

The reason I chose XP was because of the recommendation I made for purchasing older, obsolete laptops which probably will not be capable of running Windows 7 or Vista. This met my criteria for cost, usability, and availability. As one response noted correctly, the original activation can be done offline using a telephone. Copies of XP that are not pirated can still be purchased online cheaply. Also may of the surplus laptops may already come with an activation sticker (license key) still attached which obviates the need to even purchase a copy. Activation should be done ahead of time. In a grid down or disaster situation there are a variety of (relatively) easy methods to bypass the activation should the laptop decide it needs to be reactivated.

At least one response mentioned the lack of updates and age of XP as an issue. This is the primary reason I stressed to never connect these laptops to any network. It didn’t have anything to do with backdoors or NSA access, it is purely to remove issues related to having the information on your digital library laptop leaked out to internet and remove the need to frequently update and patch the systems. The second simplest system to secure is one that is never connected to another system. The simplest system to secure is one that doesn’t exist. (Yes, that’s rather zen-ish but I like it. =)

Another letter addressed the changes in technology making backup media obsolete, and failure rates. I believe this response failed to read my entire article. This is why I stressed rebuilding the backup media every 24 to 36 months. It allows reorganization of your digital library as well as alleviates the issue of age related data corruption. Also keeping as many spares as practical, and supplies of backup media.

Several users mentioned Linux. While Linux is my personal preferred operating system, I have spent a certain amount of time doing end user support, development, and security for Linux/Unix and Windows operating systems and I would put a 95% chance that there isn’t a single person on this forum who has not used Windows, and most will have used (or are still using) XP.

I would be surprised if more than 10% even have heard of Linux. Having taught a number of classes involving both Windows and Linux over the years, I will tell you there is a significant learning curve between the two environments, not the least being conceptual rather than technical. And for the Apple fan-boys out there, I’m lumping MAC OS X in with Linux at the conceptual level — and yes, I know it is a BSD derivative. =)

Another response mentioned Calibre for a digital library organizer. This is an excellent program, and I do use it. If you are careful to tag (add index keywords to documents) that you import, it makes an excellent resource tool for organizing documents. However as a different respondent mentioned, I also primarily rely on a simple folder structure. This allows me to also include other document types (blueprints, schematics, etc.) in related folders. Also don’t be afraid to have multiple copies of the same document. For example I have copies of documents relating to making charcoal in folders under ‘Consumables/Smithing’, ‘Food/Smoking’, ‘Fuel/Wood’, and several other locations.

All of this aside, ask 10 geeks how to preserve a digital library and you’ll get at least 20 answers. As presented mine is only one of many approaches that are all workable, cost effective, and can be implemented by someone without a ton of technical expertise.

Go with God, – H335

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