There has been a lot of discussion (both on the Archives & Archivists (A&A) Listserv and in blog posts) about the SAA‘s recent decision to not preserve the A&A listserv posts from 1996 through 2006 when they are removed from the listserv’s old hosting location at Miami University of Ohio.
Most of the outcry against this decision has fallen into two camps:
- Those who don’t understand how the SAA task force assigned to appraise the listserv archives could decide it does not have informational value – lots of discussion about how the listserv reflects the move of archivists into the digital age as well as it’s usefulness for students
- Those who just wish it wouldn’t go away because they still use it to find old posts. Some mentioned that there are scholarly papers that reference posts in the listserv archives as their primary sources.
I added this suggestion on the listserv:
I would have thought that the Archives Listserv would be the ideal test case for developing a set of best practices for archiving an organization’s web based listserv or bboard.
Perhaps a graduate student looking for something to work on as an independent project could take this on? Even if they only got permission for working with posts from 2001 onward [post 2001 those who posted had to agree to ‘terms of participation’ that reduce issues with copyright and ownership] – I suspect it would still be worthwhile.
I have always found that you can’t understand all the issues related to a technical project (like the preservation of a listserv) until you have a real life case to work on. Even if SAA doesn’t think we need to keep the data forever – here is the perfect set of data for archivists to experiment with. Any final set of best practices would be meant for archivists to use in the future – and would be all the easier to comprehend if they dealt with a listserv that many of them are already familiar with.
Another question: couldn’t the listserv posts still be considered ‘active records’? Many current listserv posters claim they still access the old list’s archives on a regular basis. I would be curious what the traffic for the site is. That is one nice side effect of this being on a website – it makes the usage of records quantifiable.
There are similar issues in the analog world when records people still want to use loose their physical home and are disposed of but, as others have also pointed out, digital media is getting cheaper and smaller by the day. We are not talking about paying rent on a huge wharehouse or a space that needs serious temperature and humidity control.
I was glad to see Rick Prelinger’s response on the current listerv that simply reads:
The Internet Archive is looking into this issue.
I had already checked when I posted my response to the listerv yesterday – having found my way to the A&A old listserv page in the Wayback Machine. For now all that is there is the list of links to each week’s worth of postings – nothing beyond that has been pulled in.
I have my fingers crossed that enough of the right people have become aware of the situation to pull the listserv back from the brink of the digital abyss.