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Monday, 6 February 2017

Keeping the record, inventing the wheel

There is an interesting article in today's Guardian G2 section about the Internet Archive and while this is an excellent endeavour, there are things in that article which will cause any archivist who has worked in more traditional media to emit a groan of familiarity:
[W]e make the mistake of assuming that digital means for ever. “The problem is, the internet’s systems have been designed as though everything goes on indefinitely,” he says. “There are no agreed-upon shutdown procedures".
Just like all those bodies or individuals that have never given thought to the preservation of their records or to the stability/onward intelligibility of the materials they were using (those old-style faxes that have now faded beyond reading, for just one thing), and no robust records management strategy in place to ensure that stuff gets preserved (or routinely discarded as appropriate).

I don't think the framing of the article in terms of nostalgia rather than a vital work of preservation does the topic any service. We don't know what's going to be of interest to future historians or illuminate some corner of the past. I'm currently reading a book (Brian Maidment, Comedy, Caricature and the Social Order, 1820-50, Manchester University Press, 2013) dealing with materials much of which were ephemeral, so that the representativeness of surviving examples must be a question that is difficult to answer. Saving bygone versions of the internet and its defunct sites is not just about any individual's fond memories of websites perdus.

I was also rendered somewhat thoughtful by this in the concluding paragraph: about, to reduce the amount of storage 'chucking out the washing powder ads on all that TV coverage'. I come across historians who are quite desperate to locate bound sets of periodicals which had not had the advertising matter purged before binding.

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