Thursday, February 26, 2009

Time capsules, preservation concerns, and honorary archivists

Creswell, Oregon, is a town of about 4,500 people located in western Oregon. In honor of the town's 100th anniversary and the state's 150th anniversary, an ad hoc committee of residents is putting together a time capsule that will be opened in 2059. The city government is allocating $1,000 to the project, but the committee is seeking additional contributions and will honor donors by inscribing their names upon a plaque:
Those who contribute $250 or more will be designated as "archivists," between $100 and $249 as "historians" and $50 to $99 as "timekeepers." Of course, smaller amounts are welcomed as well.
It's really gratifying that "archivist" is the greatest honorific that the committee will bestow: all too often, archivists are seen as the handmaidens of academic historians, not as professionals who possess unique theoretical and applied knowledge and who serve a broad array of users. Maybe our efforts to raise our profession's public profile are starting to pay off . . . .

It's also really heartening that the ad hoc committee is keenly aware of the preservation challenges inherent in this project:
Time capsule project committee members Carol Hooker, Jean McKittrick, Shelley Humble and Helen Hollyer have researched suitable containers that will survive 50 years, as well as the types of material that will withstand deterioration and still be accessible to our descendents after half a century has elapsed.

While it would be easy to place hundreds of documents and photographs on CDs or DVDs, technological change is progressing so rapidly that it is highly unlikely that a method of accessing data preserved by today's high-tech methods would exist in 2059.

Similarly, even when sealed in a container designed specifically for long-term preservation of its contents, many organic materials, including newsprint, decompose rapidly, and are not suitable for long-term preservation.
Archivists, librarians, and curators have consistently emphasized that simply placing electronic files on CD or DVD isn't sufficient to ensure their preservation and that some paper-based materials won't likely stand the test of time, and it's great to see that this message is slowly moving beyond the cultural heritage community and into the wider world. The Creswellians of 2059 -- and their contemporaries throughout the world -- will be glad it did.

1 comment:

Russell James said...

When I had no real qualifications for the job, I was granted an interview at the University of Florida's archives. It was then that I learned that throughout the entire university, most staff members who had clerical responsibilities were given the title of "archives" or "senior archivist." I felt it demeaning to our profession to have untrained secretaries with such titles. I still feel that way.