If we had a £ for every time we have heard this question…
There are many reasons why archive services do not scan all historical documents and make them available electronically – one of the main reasons being the inherent instability of digital files. Most professionals would now dispute that we are really heading for a digital dark age but that doesn’t mean we can be laissez-faire about the preservation of digital content.
As technology changes so rapidly, preservation of digital data actually requires much more active management than most of our paper and parchment collections – the computer I’m typing this on doesn’t even have a CD/DVD drive let alone a floppy disk drive (although fortunately, we do have access to both of this within the office).
There are many examples of lost digital data, the loss of over 50 million songs from MySpace being the most recent – see If it’s online, it’s not permanent. Internet archives can disappear.
Here at Derbyshire Record Office we have been thinking about how we preserve digital content for many years, but this is still something very much in development. However, in the last few weeks we have made good progress and more digital archives are now being received. Watch this space for further developments.
I’m recycling this image of Steve Bloomer’s school admission record (blog posts passim.), and throwing in a question: have you used our admission registers on Find My Past in your research? And do you think historians a century from now will have the same level of interest in us? Old-style admission registers like this are very largely out of use in today’s educational system, in which schools use pupil management software to record the same types of data. I wonder what effect this will have on historians whose specialist period is Britain of the late 2010s.
It’s not merely a rhetorical question (but what’s wrong with rhetorical questions?) because I have a genuine need to gauge future demand based on present use. As a records manager I have a role in helping to shape the advice the council gives to schools on retention of records. Our current recommendation is that admission and withdrawal records should be transferred here to the record office – but what should we say to schools that don’t produce actual registers? Are historians so reliant on these sources that we should ask schools to use their software to create an annual “snapshot” of admissions and withdrawals for posterity? Would anyone ever use it? It’s very hard to say whether this would be an efficient use of resources, because for all we know historians will have other digitally-preserved resources at their disposal – like the central government’s national pupil database, perhaps… Oh, and bear in mind that the present-day admissions process doesn’t capture interesting titbits such as parental occupation (like Steve Bloomer being the son of a blacksmith).
If you have an interest in this subject, whether frivolous or scholarly, I should like to hear from you. Please leave a comment below, or write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another day closer and another item featured from our collections… what might it be?
Parish of Derby St Andrew and St Osmund: Extract from a Powerpoint Presentation from Dec 2005 for the Church Equipping Programme (Ref: D958/A/PZ 33/2) – We don’t yet have many digital records in our collections but the digital collection is beginning to grow as we continue to work on our procedures to ensure we can continue to look after this information in the future (it is far more complicated than looking after “paper” records).
You can see an enlarged version of today’s item here; to view the whole presentation and other records for the church, we can arrange access through our search room and public computers at the Record Office in Matlock.
And don’t forget, if there is an item you particularly like in our Advent Calendar why not nominate it for our 50 Treasures?