Preserving Historical Records

In “Radical Archives,” Springer expresses concern that future researchers will be unable to access records of today’s activist groups, as many of these are stored exclusively online and often on third-party sites such as Facebook. In response to this dilemma, Springer proposes that archives be backed up “on three different hard drives,” which would then “be tested every year” and “transferred to a new set of hard drives every five years” (Springer 4). While this would seem to be a sound way to ensure the preservation of research materials, I could not help but view it with some skepticism. Such an involved process seems impractical when viewed alongside the article on Smith College by Nanci Young, who writes: “Our challenge is to continue to add digitized material to this site on a regular basis, which frankly, has not happened” (Young 62). If archivists cannot upload their records a single time, one wonders if they would come to upload those same records three times and then test and re-upload them at regular intervals, even if (as in Springer’s case) these records are online to begin with. The problem then appears to be with the practices of archivists, rather than with the complexity of Springer’s plan. Why have more historical records not been digitally archived or backed up? The reason might often be insufficient funding; Young mentions the importance of the Andrew Mellon Foundation grant in allowing the college to digitize a good portion of its records (62). Most of the small historical sites I have visited are run by non-profit organizations and are largely staffed by volunteers. These sites depend on donors for support; however, if the public is not made aware of the importance of historic preservation, projects such as the digitizing of archives may be brought to a standstill. The problem is multi-faceted, but if it goes unsolved, many print records of past history and online records of history-in-the-making might be made inaccessible to future researchers.

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