A recent fire at the Internet Archive shows how much can be lost if documents aren’t digitised.
Fire represents a huge threat to organisations that store large volumes of data in physical form. As such, it’s a big selling point for digitisation – once scanned, this information can be stored at multiple locations or in the cloud, rendering it safe from catastrophes at the company’s premises.
This advantage can’t be understated, as demonstrated by a recent fire at the headquarters of US non-profit organisation the Internet Archive.
The San Francisco-based group is itself dedicated to digitisation – it’s best known for the Wayback Machine, which allows users to browse the internet as it looked in years gone by, but also looks after millions of gigabytes of scanned books, audio recordings and moving images.
It lost a 1,300 sq ft building to the blaze, incurring around $600,000 (£376,000) worth of damage to scanning equipment. According to founder Brewster Kahle, however, the losses could have been far worse.
"We lost maybe 20 boxes of books and film, some irreplaceable, most already digitized, and some replaceable," he wrote on the organisation’s blog. "From our point of view this is the worst part."
Mr Kahle explained that the servers holding the bulk of the Internet Archive’s data were undamaged – and even if they had been, the group keeps backups in several different locations, so it still wouldn’t have lost "the amazing content we have all worked so hard to collect".
Obviously, it’s unfortunate that the fire occurred in the first place and many at the Internet Archive are sure to be devastated that even a few irreplaceable materials were lost. Indeed, within two days of the disaster, the group’s supporters donated $60,000 towards efforts to repair damages – an act that shows how highly valued its work is.
"This episode has reminded us that digitising and making copies are good strategies for both access and preservation," Mr Kahle concluded.