Thursday, October 6, 2011

Digital Archives & Celebrating Steve Jobs

As you all have probably heard, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday following a battle with Pancreatic cancer. In watching some of the news coverage this morning honoring Jobs and his incredible vision, one newscaster made the observation that so many of us heard of his passing via a device or technology that Jobs, himself created at Apple.

I certainly had this experience. My husband was catching up on Twitter last night on his iPhone while we were watching tv and suddenly blurted out: "Steve Jobs died."

The connection between the Day of Digital Archives and Steve Jobs is hardly a tenuous one. Between Jobs and Bill Gates my generation and those that followed don't remember a time when there wasn't at least one computer in our houses. I was raised during the era of a family computer, which from what I can tell has since gone the way of the dodo bird.

As I built up my personal digital archives, originally as a PC user, I remember becoming frustrated as a 7th grader when I couldn't find the Word file I was looking for on my 3 1/2 inch floppy disc. Now perhaps the source of the problem was my file naming structure. As an new computer user in the mid- 1990s I went through a phase where I named my Word files 1.doc, 2.doc, 3.doc- not the best digital archivist was I!

Around that same time, I also experienced trouble with interoperability between PC and Mac programs. I had one friend growing up whose family had a Mac. Doing school projects with her became quite challenging (this was in the days before Google docs and other doc sharing programs).

While the Library of Congress works to archive all tweets, as a former AIM user, hitting that "Save As" or "Print" button to keep a potentially life- changing conversation throughout middle school and high school now seems quaint.

Of course, much has changed in the realm of personal computing. While I sit at home with my Mac book running OS X, I have total confidence that my husband using a PC and running Open Office can share files with me. And I also know that while some formatting and visual appearances of the file may change during that transfer from Word for Mac to Open Office and then to my Microsoft Suite at work- the information contained in each file will maintain its value- as least for the foreseeable future.

And yet there are mountains of digital information being created each day that we as archivists must confront. As a Manuscript Librarian, I know the day of mixed media personal archives has arrived and it is in part my responsibility to ensure that users in 50 years can access this material, just as they can now access 19th century paper documents.

Steve Jobs has developed incredible technologies over the past 30+ years and as we celebrate his life, we must also honor his vision by working together to overcome the obstacles that digital archives pose.

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