Another thematic thread from MIT6, MIT’s Media in Transition conference, highlighted by Rick Prelinger (Prelinger Library, Prelinger Archives) at the 2nd plenary, Archives and History.

He shared (and shared on the AMIA listserv a while back, from whence I copied it) the following quotes from one Robert C. Binkley, published in 1935:

“The care of the records of contemporary civilization is a task so vast that neither the personnel nor the funds of our institutions of research can shoulder the burden. Many records will be preserved by amateurs or they will not be preserved at all.

“When the program for America is laid down and the high strategy of American policies defined, let there be included among our objectives not only a bathroom in every home and a car in every garage but a scholar in every schoolhouse and a man of letters in every town. Towards this end technology offers new devices and points the way.” (Yale Review, Spring 1935)

It only makes sense that as content creation and use become distributed and diffuse, its archiving must become so; if we have citizen journalists we need citizen archivists. There is nothing utterly new in this, individuals have collected creatively and astutely forever.

There are actually two pertinent concepts here, self-archiving and citizen archiving. Citizen archiving – well, Prelinger is one great example of this. It may be a form of collecting and or documentation, but with a subject matter beyond one’s self or family. Another is Clayton Patterson, who has spent decades documenting the East Village. An historian named Hank Kaplan donated his vast archives on boxing to Brooklyn College a few years back.

Self-archiving is just that. But as Rick and others suggested: there is a lack of consciousness, about the ephemeral nature of digital media, and about history and its importance itself. Our culture is very present-oriented; we do not place a high enough value on so-called ephemera. We lack tools.

Rick also posited that archives are in the dangerous place right now, a place where they where they potentially become obstacles to access rather than enablers. We are at a moment of disconnect between what users expect and what archives provide. Archives should reconceive themselves not (only) as repositories but as workshops, collaborative spaces. He also challenged archives to be open-minded about conceptions of use.

Alexander Halavais also addressed the notion of self-archiving, in a paper titled Knowledge Everywhere: The Distributed Memory of Social Media. P2P archiving is the way to go but we should be leveraging it; currently there are three main spaces: Internet Archive, Google Cache, and Coral Cache, the latter two of which are archives but are incidentally useful. The Wayback machine (“I love it it sucks”) misses a lot, and link rot and the various iterations of tinyurl etc are also a huge problem. Halavais is working on a plugin for WordPress (“blogchive”) for self-archiving blogs. I look forward to it.


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