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What to do about data in old formats?

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);
  • 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


Ann and Jim - There is

Ann and Jim - There is already something along those lines on the website, which probably needs modernising. I think Jim may have even begun it - it's now called the IASSIST File Archive (maybe it should be Script rather than File), under Toolbox. We may be rejigging this section soon, but an update of this table along the lines Ann is suggesting above would be very welcome. Robin Rice

Jim has some great ideas here

Jim has some great ideas here for putting together information about file conversion and migration. At first even a simple table on the iassist website of format type, file extension, conversion tool, link to tool, contact person, etc. would help get started. Anybody have a start on that? I'd like to add what we have about converting column binary to spread ascii and to SAS. (Lots of help from Roper and Odum on that) And I think we can connect our efforts with format registries and preservation action groups like PRONOM, too, so we get more social science formats into the mainstream of digital preservation. Can also talk about some boilerplate to use when documentation refers to specific file formats that would help people make transformations through the life cycle. I'd like to work on this, so sign me up, Jim.

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