Libraries are clearly becoming more digital, but today we get a reminder that physical books and periodicals are still key assets. Cambridge University has started work on a repository to hold millions of the books and journals in its collection. £17 million to construct a facility which will hold books that can be provided to readers within a day’s notice.
Preserving the physical collection is a vital task, especially for research libraries like that at the University of Cambridge that have priceless collections of books that are in many cases very rare. But the task of digital preservation is also important and this is an area in which Exact Editions is focussing its efforts. Exact Editions tackles the task of preservation in four distinct ways:
- As our name declares, we believe that magazines and books need to be preserved in a format that matches as closely as possible to their print format and arrangement. So the pages should look exactly the same in the print and the digital version. This matters because digital versions that do not faithfully match the appearance and layout of the print originals are failing in the task of preservation.
- The books and magazines should be searchable and instantly available. The searchability issue is critical, it is one of the biggest advantages that comes from having books in a digital format, and digital stuff that is not searchable and findable through URLs is dark matter on the web. Books that are instantly searchable and retrievable are much more useful than books that can only be handled with care, and accessed with difficulty.
- One of the most difficult issues when considering the issue of preservation is that of file formats. It is a racing certainty that in 20, or 40 years time we will be reading via software with devices and programs that we cannot at this stage begin to imagine or guess at. There is no way that we can predetermine the formats and solutions that have yet to be discovered, but a responsible platform can at least aim to handle all the content that it manages in a consistent and uniform way. Furthermore we work with Portico to provide a backup service for any resources that we supply to libraries on a perpetual access basis.
- Finally, an important step in the direction of preserving the books and periodicals which have been created in a pre-digital economy, is to make them as enjoyable and in some ways even easier to read than their print sources. Again, making the digital resources exactly like the original printed pages, is one crucial condition, but it is also important that the context of the whole publication is also preserved or even enhanced, and in the case of magazines that have been published serially over decades or even a century, this poses some new problems. We do not expect our readers to be pulling hefty volumes off a digital shelf. With the complete archives that Exact Editions is now supporting, the previous years (or decades) can be accessed through a stacking interface — as it were piling up the back issues on the virtual space of the reader’s screen; and with the collections of books that we now offer to the library community we arrange the collections, in analogous fashion. In this way the reader can move very easily from one book to another, or if the reader prefers can open as many of the volumes as can be laid out in the tabbed interface of a web browser.