World Digital Preservation Day 2022

The American Center of Research has rich collections of photographic slides, prints, and negatives, maps, and other documents related to the history and culture of Jordan, and a growing part of our archival holdings are born-digital materials. It may surprise many to learn that these include not only digital photographs and video but also websites, word-processing documents, spreadsheets, CDs, and floppy disks. Although many of these formats have been ubiquitous for decades, effort is needed for their long-term preservation and access.

Software poses unique challenges. In addition to being able to access older legacy formats (who remembers WordStar or AppleWorks?), having the appropriate software to open files properly is not always as simple as double-clicking on an icon. Additionally, the American Center has collected several CDs and disks containing twenty-year-old customized software for a variety of projects, and current operating systems often have trouble running them. For example, the files on the Cairo Architectural Heritage CD and the Arabic-English dictionary floppy disk have to remain intact and yet be compatible with current operating systems.

This was very difficult to achieve for the dictionary, which had to be run from the command line (a computer’s text interface). Although the Cairo CD required QuickTime (a 1990s multimedia throwback kept alive by Apple until 2018), it is largely functional and all its images and data files are accessible.

Besides actively migrating materials from legacy formats such as CDs and floppies, we are constantly backing up materials on external hard drives and servers, which follows best practices by keeping multiple copies. Challenges notwithstanding, we are looking forward to receiving increasing amounts of born-digital materials: too many people imagine archivists being interested only in faded black-and-white photos glued into dusty albums, but in fact we want to collect all manner of images, audio recordings, and texts that, regardless of format or age, document the cultural life and history of Jordan and the region.