Joystick and old computer games on disk.

Flashback is a project to preserve digital content held on thousands of CD-ROMs and other disk media in the British Library's collections. Access to the content will then be provided in the Reading Rooms.

Published date:

Aims of the project

The British Library has approximately 100,000 disk-based items containing digital content in its collections, the earliest of which date back to the early 1980s. This content is stored on a variety of physical media types, including floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and DVD-ROMs.

Physical media deteriorates over time, even when it's stored in optimum conditions. We established the Flashback Project to capture the content stored on the discs for the long term and to investigate ways of making it accessible to readers in our Reading Rooms. To that end, Flashback has started a programme of capturing the content on disks, creating disk images that can be stored in a secure manner and routinely backed-up.

Many current PCs can't interact with content stored on physical media, even CDs or DVDs. In order to support access in the Library's Reading Rooms, Flashback has explored the potential of using emulation tools. These tools will provide access to the captured content of disks (disk images) via platforms that replicate the functionality and behaviour of obsolete hardware and operating systems. The Flashback proof-of-concept phases established the viability of the emulation approach, although challenges remain with solving issues like software dependency.

Many of the disks in the Library's collections contain files in legacy formats, which require legacy software for accurate rendering (this is not currently part of the standard desktop deployment in Reading Rooms). Legacy software must also be preserved and this functionality is being developed in parallel as part of the Integrated Preservation Suite project.

Project objectives

The main objectives of the Flashback project are to:

  • image the contents acquired on handheld, born digital collection items and store the resulting imaged discs securely in a backed-up environment
  • establish the process for the imaging of newly-acquired content
  • implement a solution for accessing various forms of the content on a contemporary desktop PC, linked via the Library’s catalogue
  • ingest the imaged content into our repository.