Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Futuristic computer system"?

According to the New York Times, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has "has put into effect an emergency plan to handle electronic records from the Bush White House." NARA had originally planned to transfer large quantities of digital images and e-mail messages into the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) on January 20.
Archives officials who disclosed the emergency plan said it would mean that the agency would initially take over parts of the White House storage system, freezing the contents on Jan. 20. Only later, after further study, will archivists try to move the records into the futuristic computer system they have devised as a repository for digital data.
Surely the article's authors could have come up with something better than "futuristic computer system," which leads one to suspect that they didn't do their homework.

Their subsequent use of quotation marks gives added weight to this suspicion:
The archives invoked its emergency plan to deal with problems in transferring two types of electronic files: a huge collection of digital photographs and the “records management system,” which provides an index to most of the textual records generated by Mr. Bush and his staff members in the last eight years.
I don't expect that reporters will acquire detailed knowledge of archival theory or the principles of records management, and blogging has made me increasingly appreciative of the time pressures and other limitations that they face. However, a little background information about the ERA project would have improved this article immeasurably and done a real service to the Times' readership.

The article is far better at highlighting the concerns of various government watchdog groups and explaining the challenges associated with assuming custody of an unprecedentedly large body of electronic records (NARA estimates it will receive 100 TB of data) and working with an administration that has not always managed its records properly and is not being particularly cooperative.

I'm hoping that as this saga continues, journalists start picking up on some of the basics of electronic records management and digital preservation. However, I'm not holding my breath . . . .

1 comment:

pakurilecz said...

"I'm hoping that as this saga continues, journalists start picking up on some of the basics of electronic records management and digital preservation. However, I'm not holding my breath"

you better starting breathing. I've been collecting news stories about records management and archives for over 10 years and very rarely during that time has a journalist been able to report accurately about either records management or archives. One need only see the continued use of the word "dusty" in stories about archives.