Making History Available On Demand

The instinct to preserve and share information is as old as mankind—some of the first cave paintings trace back to 35,000 B.C. Our identity is defined by our own experiences and knowledge of the experiences that came before us. Innovation is created, in part, by understanding and building on this past knowledge.

Around the world, large museums and small local libraries alike are starting to think about the next phase of life for their irreplaceable collections. The constant threat of aging and over handling of delicate manuscripts, maps, and photographs creates a need for a more permanent preservation solution. Through digitization, institutions have found an answer that will safely preserve materials for centuries to come.

Founded in the 15th century, the Vatican Library is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains nearly 80,000 historic texts and manuscripts. To preserve these documents and make them accessible to the world at large, the Vatican has embarked upon a multi-year project to digitize, store, archive and put the entire collection online. With help from EMC’s Information Heritage Initiative, which aims to protect and preserve the world’s cultural information through digitization, the Vatican’s 45 petabytes of text will be made available to those outside its walls, something that was completely unimaginable before.

While digitization is the next advancement in a long line of technologies that preserve the past, it has an added bonus—global accessibility. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in North Carolina is a great example of an institution using digitization to expand its reach. The organization is currently digitizing hundreds of thousands of fragile ‘star plates’—photographic glass plates of the night sky, stored in a basement archive. Thanks to technology from EMC, digital copies of the plates are now housed in a massive online database, accessed and analyzed by researchers around the world.

Other examples of work being done around the world to preserve and share priceless artifacts include:

Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigía Foundation (Havana, Cuba)—In 2010, Cuba’s El Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural began restoration and digitization of world-renowned author Ernest Hemingway’s literary and cultural artifacts. The project will offer the world an intimate glimpse into the life of one of the 20th century’s preeminent authors.

Yad Vashem (Jerusalem, Israel)—Established in 1953, Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, is a 45-acre complex of museums, gardens, exhibits, archives, and libraries. Digitization efforts are underway to preserve visual materials related to the Holocaust.

JFK Library (Boston, USA)—The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum is in the process of digitizing and archiving its entire collection including 8.4 million pages of JFK’s personal, congressional, and presidential papers; 9,000 hours of audio recordings; 7.5 million feet of motion picture film; 1,200 hours of video recordings; 400,000 photographs; and 40 million pages donated by individuals associated with the Kennedy administration and mid-20th century history.

Through advances in online information storage, researchers, students, and innovators around the world have the opportunity to uncover hidden connections and build on previous experiences. The ubiquitous access to data that spans place and time will accelerate innovation for centuries to come.

About the Author: Chris Goode