[Techtalk] Software recommendation: photo database

Rudy L. Zijlstra rudy at edsons.demon.nl
Wed Dec 31 01:55:25 EST 2003

Mary wrote:

>In thirty years time, the people who know who the subjects of these
>photos are will be dead, and so, probably, will their children so the
>data entry will be impossible to re-do.
>That's why I'm so concerned with archival standard data formats...
>although it really seems like the rest of the world (by whom I don't
>mean techtalk but the larger world, it's not the fault of posters here
>if there's nothing to suggest) isn't, because noone can suggest any :(
Bear with me, I have put the question to a Dutch national public 
archive. They have a lot of data that is electronically accessible. Lets 
see what they come up with. I am not very hopefull though. I suspect the 
solution they use goes kind of:
- use current standard relational database
- regularly update the database SW, to keep current
- keep regular backups
- in case database becomes less supported, migrate to different database 
that is well supported.

Reasons I suspect a policy like above:
- computers aged more than 10 years become very difficult to maintain 
(lack of parts, try repairing a 10 year old PC)
- older SW can be very difficult to run on newer systems (try text 
editor from 1975. You may have some problem finding the OS to run it on, 
or the HW to run the OS on)
- The only way i can currently think of to keep data accessible is to 
change SW when the SW changes. Not with every change, but often enough 
to keep well supported. The major DB vendors support migration from 
version to version very well, in contrast to a well known end-user 
vendor, where migration from document-editor version to later version is 
already a major head-ache. Let alone migration from one version of DB to 
a later (some applications quit simply cannot be migrated and have to be 
re-written from scratch).

I expect them to use a SQL based solution to safeguard migration to 
different platforms / implementations. So far the only type of database 
solution that i am aware of that has been around for more than 20 years 
is something SQL based. LDAP is too recent and unproven in archival 
eyes, also I do not know whether it can be easily used for such 
applications. XML is documented, but even more recent.

I am afraid any working long time solution will take maintenance in one 
form or another. In archival eyes, computers are exceedingly recent. And 
difficult to handle because of the fast changing formats. Computers 
started around 1960. We are still reading papers that were written 
around 300 BC and papiri (egypt) still some 3000 year older.... Reading 
a floppy written in 1970 is very difficult though.

Also, if you want to keep data around for more that 30 year, you have to 
take a number of precautionary steps. Life time of a burned CD is less 
than 30 years.

regards and good luck,


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