From its construction in the third century B.C. until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C. the Royal Library of Alexandria flourished as the heart of cultural and intellectual development in the ancient world. Charged with collecting the world’s knowledge, it stored an estimated 400,000 parchment scrolls representing the works of some of the greatest minds of antiquity. When the library burned down, it became a symbol of the destruction of cultural knowledge.
Could the same fate await today’s libraries? Unfortunately, yes. In recent years, fires resulting from warfare and revolution destroyed libraries in Mali, Iraq and Egypt and, with them, priceless remnants of our world’s heritage. However, we’d like to think that the digitization of books, art and more will one day result in libraries that are impervious to just about any manmade or natural disaster.
Hundreds of institutions have already digitized their collections, and it’s not just books that are being transformed. The New York Botanical Garden recently added the two-millionth plant specimen to its digital research collection. Nor are efforts restricted to the preservation of physical assets. The British Library is archiving 4.8 million UK websites in order to provide future generations with a wealth of information as to how life was lived in the Internet Age.
Taking things a step further is the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Made available this past spring, our nation’s first public online library features an application programming interface (API) and maximally open data so it can be used by educators, software developers, researchers and others to create unique learning environments (think 3-D tours of ancient pyramids) and tools for discovery.
However, even these next-generation library collections could be subject to the adverse affects of disasters. Few institutions can afford the sophisticated storage systems or keep pace with the changing security technologies necessary to protect digitized content, as well as things like payments, privacy and the assertion of usage rights. That’s why today’s third-party data centers may be our best line of defense for protecting the precious moments and mementos of our world’s history and culture.
To gain and maintain customer confidence and protect the data entrusted to them, third-party data centers are equipped with advanced environmental controls and industry-leading security technologies. The best among them undergo rigorous audits to meet stringent regulatory and compliance standards. The use of virtualization and the cloud for business continuity and disaster recovery help minimize potential data loss, improve data availability and enable fast recovery with little or no downtime.
Are third-party data centers indestructible? Maybe not. But think of it this way: had the Royal Library of Alexandria been able to back up its information to one of today’s secure third-party data centers, a significant chunk of our world’s ancient history might still be accessible.