What to do about data in old formats?

By jajacobs | June 19, 2006

Recently I posted a message to the IASSIST mailing list about a study in in the ICPSR Publication Related Archive that had a data file in an old (SST) statistical software format. I had no tools to convert or even read that file and was looking for a solution to get the data. I solved that problem through the kindness of the software producer who converted the file for me.

This brought to mind a new question:

Is there something IASSIST or ICPSR can or should be doing to share solutions for saving or converting data in old, no-longer-common formats?

I’m thinking that some very small project might be a useful start: something like a registry of data libraries that still have “older” software and that would be willing to help data libraries that need to read or convert old datasets.

But there might be other opportunities as well: e.g.,

  • incorporating information about older formats and utilities for using them in ICPSR metadata;
  • formal communications with other groups that are interested in digital preservation (e.g., PRONOM for tools like JHOVE and Droid) http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/aboutapps/pronom/tools.htm;
  • archiving old software
  • procedures at ICPSR for accepting deposit of converted datasets.

I’m not sure if others are interested in this general problem or if there is an IASSIST committee that might investigate it or propose solutions.

I’m posting this message to the IASSIST list and the blog and invite your comments and ideas…

  • jim jacobs