To kick off American Archives Month, university archivist Erin Mahaney has written three blog posts discussing archives, preservation, and the challenges of preserving our past. See post one here and post two here.
by Erin Mahaney
We often hear that nothing lasts forever. For physical archival collections, the things we would like to preserve will inevitably interact with their environment at some point; items will age, and they will give off chemicals and undergo physical processes when they do. Even without any adverse outside activity, information and the physical medium that holds it can be lost through this natural process, though its rate will vary greatly depending on the storage conditions. For digital records, content can easily become decontextualized, information mediums can become obsolete, and the means of access can disappear. Especially in our digital age when information is produced and available at an exponentially increasing rate, it is inevitable that some valuable stories will be lost, and many important records of the human experience will never become part of our collective memory simply because we couldn’t save them all. Perhaps it is this sense of urgency that drives us: the awareness that we have nothing to lose in the attempt and everything to lose by inaction.