One of the nation’s largest collections of vintage software and computer equipment has been forced to expand so the National Library of Australia (NLA) in Canberra can access valuable donations that are often in outdated digital formats.
Staff at the library started collecting obsolete computers, disk readers and outdated software when they realised how hard it was to open some computer files and digital images from the past 20 years.
NLA’s manager of digital preservation David Pearson said the storage vaults included everything from a working Commodore 64 computer, to one of the earliest word processing programs, Wordstar.
“We go back to the 1980s with some of the hardware and software that we collect, and the use of them depends on what is donated to us,” he said.
“For example, in our manuscript area we may receive things from academics or notable people, and in the paper manuscripts we might find there’s a whole lot of old floppy disks or other computer files.
“So then we try to access what’s there, get the content off the carrier and consider what software we need to make that content readable [on current model computers].”
The NLA’s growing collection of backwardly compatible IT equipment has also attracted interest from other cultural institutions and archives facing similar problems.
“In digital preservation we don’t know of many other library’s that have a substantial collection of software like ours,” Mr Pearson said.
“We’ve talked to a lot of institutions and they have asked us to publish a list online of what we have available, but we haven’t got to that point yet.”
Computer files from the early 1990s have presented some of the biggest headaches because the sale of niche programs and software exploded with home PCs.
Modern software enables use of older programs
It is technical environment specialist Gareth Kay’s job to get the information from outdated systems working on a modern computer.
“One example was a database item donated about Australia’s first fleeters but it was in a particular format that was not available on our library computers,” he said.
“But fortunately we had been given the Claris software that it was created on, and a donated computer from that era allowed us to run the software, to access the information and migrate that content off and on to a format that could be used in the library.
“Without that donated software and computer equipment we wouldn’t have been able to do that as easily.”
The team also uses emulation software to persuade some programs to work on current machines using a virtual environment.
“It basically tricks the software in to thinking it is running on an earlier operating system such as DOS, which were hardware dependant,” Mr Kay said.
“And then we are able to use that environment to access the content and do what we want with it.”
Technology donations backbone of digital preservation
Mr Pearson said the library received retro software donations from some surprising sources.
“We have acquired things from staff and friends, other government organisations have even given us old software and we also buy from eBay,” he said.
“Recently I bought a copy of [Lotus] Ami Pro 2 at the tip for $2 and opened it up to find some of the disks were still shrink wrapped and unopened.
“Gareth has loaded it up and we can now access files that were created in that software from the early 1990s.”
Preservation staff have also appealed for donations of specific text and image-based applications to continue their conservation work.
“One thing on our wish list is, if anyone has a copy of Adobe Acrobat 2 because we are missing that piece from our library,” Mr Pearson said.
Texto original retirado do site ABC.
THORPE, Clarissa. Trash to treasure: Retro computer, software collection helps National Library access digital pieces. ABC: 19 jun. 2015. Disponível em: <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-20/collecting-retro-computer-technology-to-save-digital-treasures/6560494>. Acesso em: 24 jun. 2015.