Need something to read?

In this age of 24-hour, panic-driven, conflict-addictive news content designed just to be clicked on, glanced at and forgotten, here’s an archive of journalism worth spending some time with.

The Stacks Reader
The Stacks Reader is an online collection of classic journalism and writing about the arts that would otherwise be lost to history. Motivated less by nostalgia than by preservation, The Stacks Reader is a living archive of memorable storytelling—a museum for stories. We celebrate writers, highlight memorable publications, honor notable personalities, and produce interviews with writers and editors and illustrators in the hope of offering compelling insight into how journalism worked, particularly in the second half of the 20th Century.

For those of you with a little more time on your hands, perhaps you want to settle down with a good book.

Internet Archive’s ‘national emergency library’ has over a million books to read right nowCNET
The Internet Archive will suspend its waiting lists for digital copies of books, as part of its National Emergency Library. “Users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized,” the organization said in a blog post last week.

The decision comes as schools around the country are shut down in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and as it’s become more difficult to get goods of all kinds. The post noted that many people can’t physically go to their local libraries these days.

More open eBooks: routinizing open access eBook workflowsThe Signal
We are excited to share that anyone anywhere can now access a growing online collection of contemporary open access eBooks from the Library of Congress website. For example, you can now directly access books such as Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, and Youjeong Oh’s Pop City: Korean Popular Culture and the Selling of Place from the Library of Congress website. All of these books have been made broadly available online in keeping with the intent of their creators and publishers, which chose to publish these works under open access licenses.

Or if you fancy something older and more visual, check out this remarkable archive from the Cambridge Digital Library.

There’s so much in here, I’m having trouble deciding what to highlight.

Newton PapersCambridge Digital Library
Cambridge University Library is pleased to present the first items in its Foundations of Science collection: a selection from the Papers of Sir Isaac Newton. The Library holds the most important and substantial collection of Newton’s scientific and mathematical manuscripts and over the next few months we intend to make most of our Newton papers available on this site.

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Sassoon JournalsCambridge Digital Library
The notebooks kept by the soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) during his service in the British Army in the First World War are among the most remarkable documents of their kind, and provide an extraordinary insight into his participation in one of the defining conflicts of European history.

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It’s not all scans of historic documents, however.

Department of Engineering Photography competitionCambridge Digital Library
The annual Department of Engineering photo competition highlights the variety and beauty of engineering. For many people, engineering conjures up images of bridges, tunnels and buildings. But the annual University of Cambridge engineering photo competition shows that not only is engineering an incredibly diverse field, it’s a beautiful one too.

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Christian Hoecker – Carbon Nanotube WebCambridge Digital Library
This fibrous material is made of self-assembled carbon nanotubes. The diameter of each nanotube is more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Packed your school bag, kids?

There are other collections of school exercise books around, but this one is fully online and looks to be vast, with hundreds of children’s exercise books from across the globe, from the 1700s to 2000s.

Exercise Book Archive
The Exercise Book Archive is an ever-growing collection of old exercise books from all over the world. Everybody is invited to discover the history, education, and daily life of the children and young people of the past through this unique material.

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The Boeing. France, March 31, 1973

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3rd year of school 1943-44. Austria, September 1943

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My Friend. United Kingdom, March 7, 1936

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The blizzard at Honey Brook. United States of America, February 1899

Extreme archives

That 10,000 year clock is being built in remote, mountainous west Texas, a location thought to be safe from whatever the future might have in store for us. Here’s news of another.

Microsoft apocalypse-proofs open source code in an Arctic caveBloomberg
This is the Arctic World Archive, the seed vault’s much less sexy cousin. Friedman unlocks the container door with a simple door key and, inside, deposits much of the world’s open source software code. Servers and flash drives aren’t durable enough for this purpose, so the data is encoded on what look like old-school movie reels, each weighing a few pounds and stored in a white plastic container about the size of a pizza box. It’s basically microfilm. With the help of a magnifying glass, you—or, say, a band of End Times survivors—can see the data, be it pictures, text, or lines of code.

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What starts out as a quirky vanity project/photo op for the GitHub CEO becomes to be seen, at the very end of the article, and for him personally, as a timely precaution against a world “fundamentally weirder than it was 20 years ago”.

A life in print

Last year, Facebook gave us the option to download all our data. Katie Day Good, an avid Facebook user since the early days, took them up on the offer and, perhaps because of her former interest in scrapbooking, decided to print it all out…

Why I printed my Facebook
Other files were less amusing. “Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information” was a 116-page roster of companies, most of which I had never heard of, that have used my data to try to sell me things. The document called “Facial Recognition Code” was disturbingly brief and indecipherable, translating my face into a solid block of jumbled text—a code that only Facebook’s proprietary technology can unlock—about 15 rows deep. Some documents held secrets, too. “Search History” revealed an embarrassingly detailed record of my personal obsessions and preoccupations over the years. Crushes, phobias, people I have argued with and envied―this was the information I never wanted to post on Facebook, but instead had asked Facebook to help me find. This information, along with the facial recognition codes of my children (which were not included in the .zip file, but which I assume Facebook owns), is the data I most wish I could scrub from the servers of the world.

All told, my Facebook archive was 10,057 pages long.

Collecting and paying for music

Following on from that post about music formats we’ve loved and lost, here’s news of a unique record collection up for grabs.

For Sale: 40 years of vinyl singles that topped the British charts
Tim Claydon acquired his first vinyl single—“She Loves You,” by the Beatles—in 1963, when he was just three years old. The purchase kicked off a lifetime of voracious vinyl-collecting, and Claydon can still recall the most minute details from that auspicious day in Maldon, in southeastern England. He remembers walking to Woolworths on High Street with his grandmother, and watching the vendor slip the vinyl into its brown paper packaging. “I can even smell it now,” he says, more than half a century later.

If you’re looking for something on cassette that’s a little more avant-garde and experimental, check these out.

Various cassette tapes
A collection of digitized commercial and amateur mixtapes recorded on cassette format, dating over the last 30 years.

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Once upon a time, these physical things, vinyl and cassette tapes, were bought with real, physical money, and a proportion of that money would find its way to the artist. Nowadays, of course, it’s all online and streamy, and the way the money flows is less clear.

Let’s imagine Anna, a fictitious Spotify user, spent the whole of last month only listening to one album by her favourite band. You’d think that all of her $10 subscription for that month would go to that band, right? Well.

Your Spotify and Apple Music subscriptions pay artists you never listen to
They take all of the money generated from users, whether by advertisements or subscriptions, and put in a big pot. They then divide that pot by the total share of streams each artist received. So, if Apple Music gave $100 million of their revenues to artists in a month, and Drake songs accounted 1% of all streams that month, then Drake (and the writers of Drake’s songs) would receive $1 million. Essentially, 1% of Anna’s money is going to Drake.

Nothing’s ever straightforward, is it?

Shakespeare’s dirty books

Here’s an eye-catching headline.

Is Shakespeare’s DNA hiding in the Folger Library’s vault? “Project Dustbunny” aims to find out
The Folger Shakespeare Library’s underground storage facility stretches a full block beneath the building, protected by a nine-inch-thick steel bank-vault door. It houses about 260,000 historically significant books, along with manuscripts, documents, and even costumes saved from 19th-century productions. But could the Capitol Hill research library—the largest collection devoted to the Bard in the world—also contain, quite literally, Shakespeare himself?

That possibility is the longest of long shots, but it’s one potential outcome of an ongoing effort at the Folger dubbed Project Dustbunny—so named because it involves analyzing human DNA and proteins harvested from dirt inside the Folger’s old books.

Heather Wolfe, the Folger’s curator of manuscripts, is keen to distance herself from such nonsense, however.

Wolfe is especially skeptical of this idea; when I met up with her in the conservation lab, before I could even ask about it, she volunteered her lack of enthusiasm for such efforts. “The first thing to say,” she told me, “is our goal isn’t necessarily to identify a famous person who has touched an item. But that’s the thing people are most interested in: Did Shakespeare hold this book?”

Might this be how a future ‘Jurassic Bard’ movie starts?

But why stop there?

Charlotte Brontë’s hair found in ring on Antiques Roadshow, say experts
“I’ve got goosebumps now thinking about it. It’s got a hinge on it, and inside there’s plaited hair, I think it may be the hair of Charlotte Brontë,” the woman told the show’s jewellery expert Geoffrey Munn.

Munn said there was “very little reason to doubt” this.

And here’s another.

Italians try to crack Leonardo da Vinci DNA code with lock of hair
“We found, across the Atlantic, a lock of hair historically tagged ‘Les Cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci’ and this extraordinary relic will allow us to proceed in the quest to carry out research on Da Vinci’s DNA,” said Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of the museum and Agnese Sabato, president of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation in a statement.

Goats, DVDs and other formats

Here’s an interesting look at Netflix’s ARRM robot, or ‘Automated Rental Return Machine’, built to squeeze out as much profit margin as possible from its shrinking DVDs-by-post business. It’s an ingenious response to this latest shift in format.

Automating the end of movies on physical discs
The real shame will happen when movies stop coming out on DVDs and Blu-Rays altogether. That’s not because they were such a lovable way to package films (they have their pluses and minuses); it’s because with the loss of each media format, we also lose some titles forever.

Speaking of changes with storage and archive processes, I was looking back at this post from 2014, about how the printing of the new High Speed Two bill will require several thousand goats to create the necessary amount of vellum.

It turns out the following year, the Commons Select Committee agreed to a move away from vellum to high quality archive paper, a much cheaper option.

Report: The use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament
The Committee was convinced by the arguments put to it by the Chairman of Committees and has therefore agreed this short report recommending to the House of Commons that, in future, high quality archive paper should be used and not vellum to record Acts of Parliament.

But then in 2016 they changed their mind again, with the Cabinet Office deciding to “provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.”

Why is the UK still printing its laws on vellum?
After a reprieve, the UK is to continue printing and storing its laws on vellum, made from calf or goat-skin. But shouldn’t these traditions give way to digital storage, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

That’s such a tricky question, though. It’s tempting to think digital is always best with these matters, but I wonder. Storage formats come and go so quickly, just look at Netflix’s DVDs.

“In many circles there’s still a real discomfort around digital archiving, and a lack of belief that digital can survive into the future,” explains Jenny Mitcham, digital archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

The whole concept of digital storage is a relatively new innovation, and the path by which it could survive through the years is not clear.

(And has anyone compared vellum rot with link rot, I wonder?)

Preservation problems

The New Age: Leaving Behind Everything, Or Nothing At All
As for his own digital legacy? Moser says, “Please throw it all in the Pacific Ocean with a big block of concrete around it. I mean, it probably won’t help because I’m sure that Google has it in a cave in Idaho somewhere,” he says. “There’s this incredible amount of you that exists and that isn’t protected, that you don’t really have any say-so over. Where before you could just burn letters and diaries, you can’t exactly wipe every hard drive and scrape the cloud clean. I think the only thing on our side is that probably by the time, if I’m granted a normal life span and die in 40 years, there will be so much of it that nobody would possibly ever want to bother,” he says.

Note to self: must sort through those old boxes in the loft, those old university zip disks and SyQuest cartridges might still be up there. Though of course I’ve nothing to play them on if I find them…

Victims’ documents found in auctioned filing cabinet

Victims’ documents found in auctioned filing cabinet
The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland has been fined almost £150,000 for a serious breach of the Data Protection Act after confidential documents were found inside a filing cabinet sold in an auction. … The ICO said that while there was an expectation within the agency that personal data would be handled securely, its investigation found limited instructions to staff on what that meant in practice, despite the highly sensitive information the office held.

Saving digital mementos from virtual worlds

Tom in Minecraft

“I never gave much thought to their virtual gaming activities, aside from monitoring how much time they spend on their electronic devices. But I like that Minecraft lets my kids invent universes and play inside them together and I can tell that it feeds an important part of their intellectual growth as they make things, investigate things and solve problems. So I decided that I’d like to save what I can of the worlds they create, just as I save the rest of their crafts and artwork”

http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2014/02/saving-digital-mementos-from-virtual-worlds/

A handmade Steve

E-Ark gets £6 million to save digital data

Professor Anderson said a major issue to overcome is navigating different legal systems and records management traditions. He said the task of creating and building an infrastructure usable by all countries across different types of organisation as an enormous jigsaw with hundreds of pieces that need to be examined and assessed. “We will take the best bits from the systems we see and our aim is to create something that we know large organisations and archivists alike are crying out for," said Professor Anderson.

http://www.itpro.co.uk/storage/21528/e-ark-gets-6-million-to-save-digital-data

There’s more on this project on the University of Portsmouth’s website. I feel like I ought to wish this well and be full of enthusiasm (they certainly have some great records management tools and guidance they’ve been gracious enough to let me re-use at my previous institution), but they have an absolute mountain to climb. An “enormous jigsaw with hundreds of pieces”? Yeah, and then some!

Electrons drifting away

Douglas Coupland: The Clock Strikes 13 in the Archive World
A friend of mine works as an archivist at a large university that collects rare documents of all sorts. She tells me that a major issue with collecting anyone’s documents that were created after about 1990 is that the really desirable documents don’t physically exist … or, rather, they do exist but they’re lying comatose inside a 1995-ish laptop. Not only that but the structured electrons that constitute any given file inside that 1995 laptop are drifting away, as electrons apparently do. Depending on a laptop’s architecture, its drive will erase itself at a half-life rate of about 15 years. This has many implications.

A great read. I love the implications he leads us to, about what a digital archive of the future might look like and what kinds of information might be available.

Records management

Records management
Government has a duty to manage its paper and digital records effectively – to support ongoing business, and to preserve the record and memory of government. Government departments, and other organisations within the scope of the Public Records Act 1958, are responsible for selecting records to be permanently preserved and keeping them in proper conditions. The National Archives’ chief executive is responsible for co-ordinating and supervising the work of selection.

Records Management InfoKit
Records management is an established theory and methodology for ensuring the systematic management of all records and the information they contain throughout their lifecycle. The core concept underpinning records management theory is that of the lifecycle, which sees records having a series of phases from creation to final outcome ultimately resulting either in their controlled destruction or being retained on a permanent basis as an archival record. This infoKit is based around the well established concept of lifecycle management and how it should be specifically applied to the management of records.