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Preserve or perish: digital maps

Preserve or perish: digital maps
Saving digital maps in our collection
18 February 2011

Hundreds of digital maps in our collection are in danger of being lost. These physical format electronic maps are held on media such as floppy disks, CD-ROMs, DVDs and USBs. Some are under threat because they are not intended for long term storage. For instance, the average life of a floppy disk is estimated at less than 10 years. Formats that depend on obsolete hardware or operating systems may also be lost.

The challenge facing the Library is to ensure long term preservation and future access to those maps which meet its selection guidelines. Concerns about access are not new. In 2003, our map cataloguers conducted a survey of all Australian electronic maps held in the collection. 39% could not be opened with the software and computer systems available at the time.

In 2008, we released the first stage of a digital preservation system called Prometheus. Using a mini-jukebox attached to a workstation, Prometheus allows staff to link to catalogue records, create an accurate duplicate of the digital content and transfer it from a physical format to the Library's Digital Object Storage System (DOSS). We have decided that it may make backup copies for preservation purposes, unless this is clearly prohibited on the packaging, or unless an agreement to the contrary has been signed with the copyright owner. In 2009, map cataloguing staff started preserving digital maps onto Prometheus as part of the Library's Media Backlog Project. They also preserve on Prometheus most newly received digital maps.

Anne Bowen

Map cataloguer Anne Bowden preserving digital maps onto Prometheus using a mini-jukebox (shown at centre of photograph)

Without Prometheus digital maps such as this satellite image of the 2003 Canberra bushfires could easily have been lost forever.

Satellite image showing effects of  bushfires, Canberra 2003

Satellite image showing effects of bushfires, Canberra 2003. Source: Geoscience Australia (CC-BY)