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MoMA’s Digital Art Vault

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MoMA Digital Repository Manager Ben Fino-Radin has shared a gloriously detailed post on the museum’s blog that outlines how they are archiving digital works. In it, he describes their state-of-the-art ‘digital vault’ for these collections and its related workflows. Below, Fino-Radin explains ‘the packager’ (the first step in the workflow, which also includes the ‘the warehouse’ and ‘the indexer’).

The packager addresses the most fundamental challenge in digital preservation: all digital files are encoded. They require special tools in order to be understood as anything more than a pile of bits and bytes. Just as a VHS tape is useless without a VCR, a digital video file is useless without some kind of software that understands how to interpret and play it, or tell you something about its contents. At least with a VHS tape you can hold it in your hand and say, “Hey, this looks like a VHS tape and it probably has an analog video signal recorded on it.” But there is essentially nothing about a QuickTime .MOV file that says, “Hello, I am a video file! You should use this sort of software to view me.” We rely on specially designed software—be it an operating system or something more specialized—to tell us these things.

MoMA’s Digital Art Vault

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A writer and editor based in Toronto, Greg is interested in media art and its broader cultural implications. Beyond contributing to CAN, he is the Editor-in-Chief of HOLO and serves on the Board of Directors at InterAccess.