There is a deadline
Emilio (User:emijrp) has been a Wikipedia editor since August 2005, and is a bot programmer and a cataloger of human knowledge. This opinion essay is adapted from his essay Wikipedia:There is a deadline (whose title makes reference to the well-known older essay Wikipedia:There is no deadline).
The views expressed are those of the author only. Responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. The Signpost welcomes proposals for op-eds. If you have one in mind, please leave a message at the opinion desk.
Every day, distinct stores of knowledge are lost forever with no copies extant. When a natural disaster hits a region or a war breaks out, many libraries, archives, museums, monuments and other heritage, valuable buildings, incunabula and unique objects are destroyed.
There are plenty of examples of this from before Wikipedia's existence. The Library of Alexandria, the lost Chinese encyclopedias, churches, monasteries, convents and libraries destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, a storage vault fire in 1937 that destroyed all the original negatives of Fox Pictures' pre-1935 movies, hundreds of libraries and archives bombed and burnt during World War II, more than 6,000 Tibetan monasteries destroyed during the Cultural Revolution along with unique statues, tapestries and manuscripts, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina shelled and burnt to the ground along with thousands of irreplaceable texts, to name only a few.
Since Wikipedia's inception, the destruction of knowledge has been at least as bad as before. The Iraq National Library and other repositories of culture were looted and burnt during the 2003 Iraq invasion, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake damaged or utterly destroyed libraries and archives in several countries, much of Haiti's heritage was damaged or destroyed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, just as with Chilean heritage during the 2010 Chile earthquake. Recently, the Egyptian Museum was looted during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. But it does not always take a war or a natural catastrophe to endanger knowledge, as illustrated by the Duchess Anna Amalia Library fire in 2004, or the collapse of the building hosting the Archive of the City of Cologne in 2009.
These events usually remove pieces of human knowledge and sometimes entire cultures. Today, many of the world's languages are in danger.
Furthermore, hundreds of websites are closed every day on the Internet; the average life of a web page is only 77 days. Those websites are used in many cases as references, but while projects such as the Internet Archive or WebCitation and volunteer groups like Archive Team save copies of some of them, many others are lost forever.
Wikipedia and its sister projects can and must save all these forms of knowledge, through creating articles, uploading images to Wikimedia Commons, preserving languages in Wiktionary and transcribing books into Wikisource. Events like Wiki Loves Monuments may help to immortalize monuments around the world before they are damaged or destroyed, but the 2011 edition only covers European countries.
There is a deadline. This is a battle against time.
- ^ (in Spanish) El martirio de los libros: una aproximación a la destrucción bibliográfica durante la Guerra Civil (Archived September 27, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ "$45,000 Fire Drives Families From Homes in Little Ferry", Bergen Evening Record, July 9, 1937, p. 1. Quoted by Richard Koszarski in Fort Lee: The Film Town, Indiana University Press, 2005, pp. 339–341. ISBN 978-0-86196-652-3.
- ^ It Has Been Done Before! Reconstituting War-Ravaged Libraries (Archived September 27, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising, Planned destruction of Warsaw and Polish culture during World War II
- ^ Tibetan monks: A controlled life (Archived September 22, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Erasing the Past: The Destruction of Libraries and Archives in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Archived August 30, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Photos of the Iraq National Library 2003–08
- ^ Haiti Cultural Recovery Project (Archive index at the Wayback Machine)
- ^ Breaking: Images of Egyptian Museum Damage -UPDATE 34- King Tut Objects Damaged? (Archived September 22, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Hilfe für Anna Amalia (Archived September 22, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Archive Collapse Disaster for Historians - Spiegel Online International (Archived September 22, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Internet Archive Frequently Asked Questions (Archived October 3, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Archive Team website (Archived October 3, 2011, at WebCite)
- ^ Wiki Loves Monuments 2011 - European website (Archived October 2, 2011, at WebCite)
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