Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Archival Dilemmas

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Archival Dilemmas

Article excerpt

Archives preserve. In the past, they were limited to the written word-in cylinder seals, on tablets, papyri, scrolls, parchments, manuscripts, palimpsests, books, and other similar formats. Archeological and natural artifacts-from shards and ceramics to coins, stelae, and enormous obelisks, from dried lizard skins to stuffed elephants-are more the province of curiosity cabinets and natural history museums.

Archivists attempt to collect everything relevant to their domain: the government or business or academic institution they represent. In the past, this was a comprehensively possible task. Output was limited and much of the material was written or printed on paper. When electronic mail came into wide use, hundreds of millions of people, most of whom had never jotted down a note, let alone written a real letter, began spewing out vast quantities of ephemeral drivel. This too had to be collected. Twitter and other annoyances have compounded potential collectibles. Much of this is expendable.

But the vital data that researchers produce in such mindnumbing quantities and then store in media whose hardware and software are quickly outmoded may be lost to future generations. …

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