The Challenge Of Digitizing The National Archives

from the a-big-task dept

If you were given the task of digitizing the National Archives how would you handle it? From the sound of this brief Wired Magazine article, it hasn’t quite been figured out yet. They’re working on a big project that only began recently (“a bit late,” as the article notes) — but the interesting part is that the National Archivist is much more afraid of losing the human expertise and knowledge associated with the people who work at the National Archives. It’s a good reminder that for all the automation and cool new technologies out there, sometimes a bit of human expertise can be the really valuable part. Update: An archivist from Penn State helps clarify that the project in question is about managing new digital records, rather than digitizing old records — something that isn’t entirely clear from the original article.

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Comments on “The Challenge Of Digitizing The National Archives”

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Dave Tamburello says:


Let’s hope the expertise of the human archivists is (if meagerly) captured in metadata, documentation, training materials and a solid apprenticeship for a technically savvy archivist. A collection of informative stories, those with a “moral” that performs a training function captured on video would help as well. An attempt at workflows diagrams would be a good idea. Until we can contract Kurzweil to perform a brain download, these efforts would be due dilligence for capturing intellectual capital.

Victoria G Brown says:

Re: Archivist

I had the same response after I had read the Article mentioned in Wired. In fact I had contacted the NARA via their page in support of the archivist mentioned therein. I may never visit the National Archives but I felt as though accessing living history and perhaps interacting in some small way has a bigger impact than a static search for information.

Tyshaun says:

Re: Re: Archivist

Sometime there truly is no replacement for human interaction, especially of a learned individual on subject matter research. You can do as many search strings into google/yahoo/whoever as you want but I still think being able to ask a person is far superior because they can “improvise” if you will and provide relevant/supplemental information that a simple text search may not do.

I hope in our mad dash to digitize everything we don’t eliminate human interaction.

Lee Stout says:

digitizing the National Archives?

Mike says, they haven’t quite figured out how to digitize the National Archives yet, referring to the Electronic Records Archives project. Unfortunately, Mike misunderstands the project. The ERA is the archives of the future, that is it will take in all the email, webpages, databases, digital photos, and other electronic files now in federal agencies that WILL be coming to the National Archives in the future. None of that will be “digitized,” its already digital.
The substanial amount of electronic records now in the National Archives from the last 30 years will be added to the ERA for preservation and reference purposes.
Now if they were going to digitize the 4 billion pieces of paper now in the National Archives, that would add just a tad more cost — try at least $400 million additional. No one is suggesting that be done, and that’s why the expertise of the archives staff in relation to those 4 billion pieces of paper is so important.
Lee Stout
An archivist at Penn State and a member of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, but speaking for himself.

David says:

Its not that challenging

I work for a software development company called Cherry LAN Systems, Inc. located in Traverse City, MI. We specialize in file management and archiving, and not just documents we also do video files, audio files and much much more. Our system could handle the task “with its eyes closed”; it?s just a matter of how much the government will spend at this point. If anyone (Mike) knows how I can contact whom ever is in charge of digitalizing the national archive it would be greatly appreciated.

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