The UK has become one of the first countries to set up a programme to save billions of public documents from a potential information "black hole", which could be created by rapidly evolving technology.
The UK Digital Preservation Programme, led by the National Archives, pools the expertise of several organisations to prevent a potential "digital dark age", which would result if billions of documents in old formats were to become unreadable by future technology.
"The ephemeral nature of digital information is a major challenge facing government and society," said Natalie Ceeney, chief executive of the National Archives. She said it was essential for government to work with the IT industry to avoid losing critical information.
Adam Farquhar, head of e-architecture at the British Library, said the loss of digital documents was costing European companies billions of euros a year. "Digital preservation should be a concern for any organisation that needs to store information for more than 15 years."
The National Archives has partnered with the British Library, London University, Microsoft, and government departments in the US and the Netherlands for components of the project.
"This is not something we can do on our own," said Ceeney at the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft last week.
The software company is making available all code from previous Microsoft systems and a Virtual PC to view documents created in early versions of Windows and Office in return for digital preservation expertise in developing future products.
National Archives CIO David Thomas said that over the past eight years the National Archives has been developing the components of a digital preservation system. This collaboration with Microsoft provides an additional component to this system.British Library to create British e-mail archive >>
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