Past Present

Salman Rushdie’s Macintosh

The New York Times has an interesting article (and video demo), Fending Off Digital Decay, Bit by Bit highlighting Emory University and their Salman Rushdie Archives.

At Emory they debated what to do with the wealth of digital content Salman Rushdie had donated to them. Among the options: preserve the physical objects (computer, floppy disks, etc) or transfer the data to more modern systems. Emory did a bit of both.

The coolest part of their solution is that they’ve given visitors access to his computer via an emulator. With it users can access his Macintosh Performa exactly as he had left it. Users can look through his files and folders, launch his apps, even look at his Stickies (which he used extensively on one of his projects).

To the Emory team, simulating the author’s electronic universe is equivalent to making a reproduction of the desk, chair, fountain pen and paper that, say, Charles Dickens used, and then allowing visitors to sit and scribble notes on a copy of an early version of “Bleak House.”

“If you’re interested in primary materials, you’re interested in the context as well as the content, the authentic artifact,” Ms. Farr [director of born-digital initiatives at the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory] said.

Emulators aren’t a permanent solution to digital decay. Eventually the system the emulator runs on will be outdated, and so a new emulator would need to be developed to run on the new, future, system. But, for now, this Emory archive is a fascinating glimpse into future libraries and archives.