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The CA Culinary Academy, Part II: LongNow

My previous entry about the SLA meeting at the CCA reveled in the retro feel of a working card catalog. But the focus of the meeting is very much futuristic. The guest speaker was Alexander Rose, Executive Director of the LongNow Foundation.

It was a generally cool talk/presentation [PowerPoint file]. There were pictures of the Rosetta Project [if the site is still down, here's a cached version from The Internet Archive] and the 10,000 Year Clock. But what really caught my attention was Rose's Powerpoint slide on the future of digital archiving:

Peer to peer archiving

The network is the archive…

  • All data is broken up into chunks and resides on the existing workstations within the institution.
  • No centralized expensive server farm.
  • No computer has a full copy of anything, but the network as a whole has multiple copies of everything (RAID).
  • As each workstation gets upgraded so does the network eliminating server farm upgrade costs.

More secure, cheaper, and more redundant.


I don't know how feasible this is in the short or long-term -- for instance, Brewster isn't about to let go of the leases for the Archive's server farm. But this could be really interesting. The redundancy element is already present in a few archiving/long-term access projects (such as Stanford's LOCKSS). What would P2P delivery of e-books or digitized texts entail? How would the standards for a digital text change? What formats would work best? What protocols for quality and authentication might be useful (or useless)?

Can you imagine using BitTorrent to download a book?

This idea has tons of drawbacks, especially when dealing with non-public domain material, but I also think there's quite a bit of potential, at least in terms of thinking about how libraries and archives move forward in delivering assets to their patrons/users. And it means that libraries and archives may have a stake in the future of P2P networking systems and on that basis should pay attention to cases like MGM v. Grokster.

We're quite far off from Rose's vision of P2P archiving replacing centralized repositories. But is it realistic? And if so, how do we get there from here?


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A similar idea was proposed by media archivist Jim Lindner in 2001 and afterwards. He suggests a MediaLESS archive concept as a means of distributes storage for "rich media" files such as digital(ized) video. Abstracts of his paper, but apparently not the slides itself, are on the net.

Thanks, Rick. I found an abstract, but I want more (even if I don't understand half of it).

Also, I managed to find this: DISTARNET – A Distributed Archival network (http://www.distarnet.ch/IS_T-distarnet.pdf), which was presented in 2004.

There already are decentralized networks like this, but I see one large problem: even with redundancy, there's a chance that enough systems will go off-line to make books unreadable. Although this won't happen with popular books, it might happen with books that are unpopular.