“Computer discs aren’t archives, are they?”

 Well yes, they can be.

 Many people think of archives as dusty old manuscripts, parchment deeds and sepia photographs. It’s certainly true that an awful lot of the records we hold at the West Yorkshire Archive Service fit that description (apart from the “dusty”- our Conservation team work very hard to ensure that doesn’t happen!).  The truth is, though, that history doesn’t ever stop.

Old parchment document

One of the oldest documents we hold – a notification of a grant of land at Ripley from before 1157 (Ref: WYL230/165, WYAS Leeds)

As new technologies emerge the format in which records are created has always changed.  The glass plate negative gave way to 35mm film; the quill pen gave way to the fountain pen, then the biro and the typewriter; parchment gave way to paper and wet letter books disappeared with the rise of carbon copies. 

The mission of the West Yorkshire Archive Service has always been to collect, preserve and make available the county’s documentary heritage, for legal purposes and historical research.  The documents and records which were once produced on paper are now being created on computer and even though the email has replaced the letter and financial ledgers have been replaced by spreadsheets we still have a responsibility to ensure the records being created today are preserved for future generations to access.

Computer records

Some of the computer records we hold in the archives already

So what are we doing about it?

Well today is a Day of Digital Archives as archivists across the world tell people about the work they are doing to help preserve the digital age,  so it seemed like the ideal opportunity to tell you all.

Our Digital Archives Policy is available on our website and sets out our commitment to exploring the ways in which we can best meet the challenges of preserving digital materials.  These challenges include the physical deterioration of digital storage media, rapid changes in hardware and software which mean we may lose the ability to access older records (remember 3 ½ inch floppy discs, anyone?) and developing the resources we need to collect, process, preserve and make available digital records.

We’ve got a special computer, which is isolated from our main network, where we can check digital records deposited with us for viruses and use tools to gather the technical information we need to preserve alongside the digital records themselves so they can be accessed in the future. We have dedicated server space to store the digital records once they have been processed.  We’re talking to our colleagues in the IT department about how we can make these digital records available to our researchers.

We’re developing training materials and advice for all our staff to help them deal with digital records and we’re taking part in wider training opportunities like this National Archives web-archiving pilot study .

If you want to know more about what we’re doing, think you might have some digital records you’d like to deposit with us for future generations, or maybe just want some advice on where to look for help in caring for your own digital “stuff” so your children and grandchildren can enjoy all those digital photos you’re taking, feel free to contact us for help, information and advice.

Follow us at @wyorksarchives or follow #digitalArchivesDay for more information about the Day of Digital Archives.

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One response to ““Computer discs aren’t archives, are they?”

  1. Pingback: 46. Digital Objects are Special too: Our 40th Birthday Cake | 100 Objects

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