Researcher talks access to digital information

On Tuesday morning in Sterling Memorial Library, a German researcher talked about a way in which technology can be used to access old materials created through now-obsolete digital mediums.

Dirk von Suchodoletz, a principal researcher at the Institute for Computer Science at the University of Freiburg in Germany, gave a presentation titled “Making the Old New Again: Practical Emulation for Long Term Digital Preservation & Access.” In his lecture, von Suchodoletz presented a solution to the problem of accessing relevant information and artworks that were created on old digital mediums or in digital environments that are no longer in use. He and his colleagues at the University of Freiburg have been working on a project that aims to provide access to digital information to everyone, including people with no technical education. The software they are designing would allow users to access emulated digital environments remotely through a web browser. In this way, old content can be accessed, manipulated and preserved, von Suchodoletz explained.

“How does screen capturing not provide the full effect of digital art?” von Suchodoletz asked the audience, urging them to think about what is lost when files are read on different interfaces than those they were created on. He showed three disparately formatted images of the same word document opened on a Mac computer, Microsoft computer, and older software. The three barely resembled each other.

According to von Suchodoletz, the three main fields this interface would appeal to are digital art, research data management, and computer games and software. The new software would preserve access to old digital content including documents, images, 3D models, digital art, scientific workflows, research data, custom code and entire networked environments. Another service the interface could provide, he added, is access to what he called “laptop snapshots.” These would allow the public to access the laptops of famous celebrities, politicians and professors for years after their personal device becomes obsolete.

The researcher also mentioned the challenges the research team is facing, the most serious being legal issues. The team is having difficulties convincing individuals to support the project because they are afraid of intellectual property rights violations. The team is handling such issues, he said, by making risk assessment and management mandatory for those using the new interface.

Aracadia Falcone, a librarian at Sterling Memorial Library, said she thinks that the project is exciting, adding that the transmission and preservation of digital data has long been an issue, particularly for individuals with little technical experience. According to Assistant Librarian at the Yale Center for British Art Beth Morris, who attended the presentation, working with obsolete digital media such as floppy disks is a large problem for library staff. As a result, she said, digital preservation is a “big topic” for libraries right now.

“There is software that only runs on old machines with data you need,” said Kristen Bogdan, a librarian at the Yale Center for Science and Social Science Information. “This would allow us to access it.”

Von Suchodoletz studied economics, mathematics and politics at the Georg August University of Goettingen.

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