Blog Post Week 11: Archivists in the Post-Custodial Era

After reviewing several articles on how archivists reach the general public— in particular Timothy Ericson’s 1990/1991 article “Preoccupied With Our Own Gardens, the SAA’s Strategic Plan, NARA’s “Teaching with Documents” webpage, and the Interactive Archvist’s— I firmly believe a vast majority of archivists are operating in a post-custodial era. One particularly interesting example of a post-custodial archival project is the twitter account “Ask Archivists” in which twitter users can interact and follow the archival community. The page, operating since 2010, has 9,044 followers and represents a media venue being capitalized upon by archives and archival institutions. The social media presence of archivists and archives represents a clear effort by the archival community to connect to the public. Lesson planning and interactive document platforms (as seen in Web 2.0 and Nara’s Teaching with documents via DOCSTeach) represent the innovative measures archivists are taking to reach a larger audience; archival studies joining the larger digital humanities movement represents a clear adoption of the post-custodial mindset. The name of the game appears to be how can archives/archivists cheaply use technology to interact with a larger audience.

Perhaps the bigger issue for archivists, in the digital age, is how to best preserve today’s information. Many formats—CDs, DVDs, Cassette tapes, Floppy disks, etc.— present a challenge in terms of preservation due to the unforeseen “half-life” of many of these mediums. Even more pressing may be content created online, such as the 1996 satirical website “Bert is Evil, as discussed in Roy Rosenzweig’s 2003 article “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era”.  Much of this content is created and either changes appearance of disappears without leaving a physical trace. However, web crawling services offer a solution to part of the dilemma; what is unfortunate is data created on social media accounts that are privacy protected, e-mails, text messages or similar files from messaging applications. This information is easily deleted, or is stored on servers not designed to archive the material past it’s date of continued use. How will this information, that is most personal and perhaps most valuable to a future researcher, be saved and stored? Archivists should be inserting themselves into the tech world so they may understand how information technologies are created and operate. They should also reach out to this community in the hopes of becoming part of the informational process; the creators themselves should have a vision for the archival part of their creation’s existence. Archivists need to pose questions to creators of digital content in terms of how they wish to proceed once the creation or data is past it’s usable life. The archivist, by and large, is aware of the post-custodial age. The question is, does the digital age require a new archivist—in particular, an archivist who is there from digital cradle to grave?

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