Scanning question (Is destruction of old tech docs a moral crime?)

Paul Birkel pbirkel at
Sun Jul 21 00:48:20 CDT 2019

-----Original Message-----
From: cctalk [mailto:cctalk-bounces at] On Behalf Of Guy Dunphy
via cctalk
Sent: Saturday, July 20, 2019 11:00 PM
To: General Discussion: On-Topic and Off-Topic Posts
Subject: RE: Scanning question (Is destruction of old tech docs a moral

I'm posting a private email (anonymized) and my reply because it's a 
significant issue.

>{Note private reply}
>    > When the scanning process involves destruction of the original work
>    > ... But if it's a rare document, or even maybe so rare that it's the
>    > last one, then destroying it now just to produce a digital copy
>    > inadequate to the aims of cultural preservation - that's a crime.
>    > One right up there with genocide
>While I agree that making a non-optimal digital copy in such cases, is,
>well, non-optimal (because for _many uses_, the basic information is still
>available, wheras for many important documents, not even that remains),
>there's no way it's "right up there with genocide" - and if you really
>think so, you definitely need to examine your sense of scale, because it's
>seriously defective.
>	[name removed]

I agree that when historical documents are lost without even any kind of
digital copy made, that's the worst.

However I was pretty careful to preceded that quoted paragraph with

Specifically referring to a case where someone has a rare work, that isn't
in danger of falling apart, and there's no good reason why they couldn't 
wait till better scanning methods became available, and they destroy it to
produce a crappy quality digital image. Thus ensuring there can never be
a high quality digital copy and the rare physical original is forever gone.
That's criminal. A high level crime against humankind. Where it's done in
bulk to entire collections, it _is_ the cultural equivalent of genocide.

I don't care if you disagree.
Could it be that you are upset because you do this (destroy docs), and don't
like to be accused of being a criminal?
I am sure that the future WON'T take your position on this. They are going
to be sooo pissed, that so many old works were destroyed and all they have
left is crappy quality horrible-looking two-tone scans.

This is _already_ the case with many electronics instrument manuals. There
so many people who think that the physical manuscript is unimportant, and
matters other than posting a minimally readable smallest-possible-file
with the least effort and so it's OK to destroy the original for

Private reply noted. Still going to repost on the list, as from anon.



If I may summarize/generalize, Guy, I think that your point is that there
are Technical Artifacts and there are Cultural Artifacts -- and the two sets
overlap to some degree.  Where the overlap lies is subject to great debate,

Most of us probably wouldn't destroy a Cultural Artifact (e.g., Taliban
destruction of Buddha of Bamiyan statue) but many might destroy a Technical
Artifact in the belief that its overt information content defines its value,
and that one that value has been captured digitally the Technical Artifact
effectively lives on in that form.  The corpus is merely that ...

At what point do you believe that a "mere" Technical Artifact becomes a
Cultural one -- where the latter presumptively comes accompanied by a
Requirement to Preserve?

Being the "last known survivor" of a particular piece of hardcopy seems both
an inadequate basis for determination in general, and operationally it's a
pretty weak method since "last known" becomes dependent on a Registry of
sorts (and likely requires good provenance to preclude forgeries, else

In your perspective is Artistic Merit an important consideration in
determining Cultural value, and thus Requirement to Preserve?  How does one
judge that?

As much as I like hardcopy Technical Artifacts for various reasons, I have
difficulty with the concept that all hardcopy, even the very last known
original, is worth (in the ROI sense, to include proper archiving and
maintenance) preserving.

I'm reminded a bit of "A Canticle for Leibowitz"!


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