What do you do with electronic records? This is a question that staff members in Archives and Special Collections have been receiving at an increasing rate - from donors and researchers alike. It is also a question that we have been asking ourselves and our professional colleagues. This past year has seen a great deal of activity in ASC and the Libraries as a whole to meet the challenges of born-digital archives.
Our profession has long been good at receiving and preserving physical evidence that documents the lives and activities of individuals and groups - materials that you can hold in your hands. Before books get published, buildings get constructed, and plays get staged, people have traditionally put pen or pencil to paper to conceive, sketch, and outline their ideas. They add and edit and develop concepts through iterative drafts, personal notes, and the minutes of group discussions. They photograph activities and record rehearsals and presentations. Facts and figures, needs, resources, and costs are tabulated. Errors are found and corrected. Ideas are explored and examined in newspaper and magazine articles clipped out, book chapters photocopied - sources then collected or shared with others as attachments in letters. All of the activity leading up to the realization of an idea can be retraced by poring through the physical evidence left on paper, film, and tape. As professionals we have gotten very good at bringing these things in to the library, preserving and sharing them. Today, much of that activity takes place entirely online with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and design software. Communication takes place via email, text and instant messages, on blogs and social media. Sometimes it is printed out, but it can exist entirely online - and in any event, that is where the materials originated.