Convenors of the Digital Heritage research group, Denise de Vries and Melanie Swalwell, recently commenced a pilot research project with the State Library of South Australia, looking at their computer disk collections.
The Library has a significant collection of disk-based materials, comprising some 125 floppy disk and 1,700 CD-ROM titles made up of about 150 individual floppy disks and 2,900 individual CD-ROMs (as at Jan 2014). Much of this material has come into the Library’s collections via legal deposit legislation, under which South Australian publishers are required to supply a copy of each of their publications to the Library.
The items are currently stored under climate-controlled conditions, but no active preservation work has been undertaken. Floppy disks have an unknown shelf-life. Estimates range from 10-30 years. The disks are known to deteriorate over time, which makes retrieval of their contents difficult or impossible. The Software Preservation Society (makers of Kryoflux) report that “Our practical findings show that disks from 1985 are frequently found “rotten”, and thus we would estimate around the 20-year mark is about right for 3.5” DD floppy disks”. CDs are also a new storage media, whose longevity is unknown. Gilbert suggests that the early long lifespan claimed by manufacturers of compact discs should be viewed with “at least a little scepticism”.
The project aims to audit the South Australiana computer disk collection, to trial available tools for making disk images of selected parts of the collection, as well as to develop strategies to enhance discoverability of the items. As significant amount of Australia’s digital heritage is thought to be in the hands of private collectors, the project is further trialing innovative collaborative relationships with expert informants, and private collectors to investigate how computer disk materials that are scattered in various libraries and/or held by private collectors might be made available in the future for public benefit and access.