As we’ve discussed before, data preservation is crucial. It can seem like a daunting task, one where software obsolescence is breathing down your neck, and threats to physical data loom large over our fragile photos and documents with every spark, and even patron’s greasy fingers.
So with the decision to preserve your data at the front of your mind, where do you begin? Do you digitize everything? How long will your data last once it’s digitized? Forever, right?
Maybe it’s time for you to go back to “How does a computer ‘work?’”
You may have noticed that electronics advance at a rate faster than you can buy them. It’s not just your iPhone 5 that is already useless. The software used to run your apps, as well as seemingly simpler programs that read your photos and your documents are quickly becoming lost to the ages.
More importantly than your insignificant personal data (because no one cares about pictures of your cat, or even the research you started years ago on the book you swear you’re going to finish), the publics‘s data must be preserved. Unfortunately, many of today’s public documentation is “born digital,” meaning that no paper copy of your records has ever existed.
Washington State archivist Jerry Handfield believes that public records belong “to the people.” As Jerome P McDonough poignantly put it, “If we can’t keep today’s information alive for future generations, we will lose a lot of our culture.”
The Washington State Archives has attempted to prevent this egregious loss of culture by building their archives deep underground in a bomb shelter. The hope here is to prevent the loss of information in even the most extreme emergencies. But what is the everyday historian to do?
The answer is clearly for every historian to build a bomb shelter in their back yard to house their research. And probably to store at least once archivist to interpret your work to our future overlords.