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Tuesday, June 13, 2017 02:02 pm

Lasting impressions

In this week's column I say my two cents’ worth about the warehousing of State of Illinois documents, which is, pretty much, that storing such documents on acid-free paper in a controlled environment of a warehouse is probably the best solution, digitization being both more costly and less reliably durable than print.

But there are storage media that outdo paper. One is carving, say, child visitation records into wet clay tablets that are then baked hard. No need for climate-controlled repositories, and impervious to bugs.

Another is writing them on calf skin, as Chris Stokel-Walker recently reported in the BBC News Magazine.

Last week the House of Lords decided to end the printing of laws on vellum for cost reasons. But now the Cabinet Office is to provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.

Vellum lasts a long time. Dig into the archives of the UK's parliament and pull out the oldest extant law and you'll find a very old document. It was first inscribed in 1497.

Over time, ordinary paper can deteriorate rapidly, while vellum is said to retain its integrity for much longer. Original copies of the Magna Carta, signed more than 800 years ago on vellum, still exist.

Impressive. But converting State of Illinois archives to vellum would be a waste of money. The risk of electronic documents is that technological changes render them unreadable by future machines. But given the state of state school funding, ordinary printed English won't be readable by humans in 800 years. 





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