The following is a guest post by Tess Webre, former intern with NDIIPP at the Library of Congress
For the past semester I have been working with NDIIPP learning the tools of the trade, creating resources, and crafting fun blog posts (or at least trying). Sad to say, the semester is over. Yes, loyal readers, it is time for me to doff my hat and hit the old dusty trail. Yet, it wouldn’t be a complete ride-off-into-the-sunset-moment without an impassioned speech that tied the whole story together, so here goes.
Tess’s long and dramatic speech on the importance of digital stewardship:
Our records are important. It’s a simple statement, but a point worth delving into. Records are important from a financial perspective (such as taxes, purchases, etc.), from a legal perspective (proof of ownership, deeds, etc.), from a historic perspective and familial perspective (genealogy, general warm and fuzziness). However, there is another aspect to the necessity of records. They foster democracy.
Recently, my graduate school had a conference with the speaker Dr. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, former acting archivist of the United States and archivist for the United Nations high commissioner on refugees. She discussed the use of archives, specifically in places that had previously encountered civil unrest – the Balkans in the late 1990s, Somalia, Guatamala. In the aftermath of war, revolution or civic tumult, there are several questions both institutions and individuals ask to achieve any sort of normalcy. What happened? Why did it happen? How did it happen? How can we prevent this from happening again? Victims of violent action and their families have a right to answers and the archival community has a duty to preserve the records which provide the answers. In these instances preservation is a tool of social justice, providing voices for the voiceless and agency for the victims. Alex Boraine, a South African politician following the end of apartheid, said it better than I ever could: “It is necessary to turn the page of history, but first we need to read that page.”
So, how does this relate to the role of digital stewardship? What does this have in common with digital preservation? Plenty. Internationally, cell phone videos have documented protests, civilian executions and other atrocities. War tribunals and genocide trials can use these pieces of evidence, and more, to convict the guilty, and provide reparation and solace for the victims and their families. In these instances, preserving the data is noble, even dangerous.
This is why I first wanted to become an archivist; it’s also why I wanted to become a digital archivist. I wanted to help right the wrongs of history and give voices to the voiceless. To do that, we need to be able to access the evidence that we create digitally. If we can’t do that basic task, then we cannot hope to do anything further. Assuring that we have authentic digital archives, therefore, is a way to ensure that there can be accountability in the long term.
Working here at NDIIPP has only confirmed the nobility of digital stewardship. For example, one of the digital stewardship programs here at NDIIPP ensures democracy by providing for the longevity of born digital government records. Another program does the same with public records. In my time here at NDIIPP, I have been overwhelmed by the opportunities presented to do lasting good.
Well, that’s the end of my speech. I have truly enjoyed my time here at NDIIPP and hope that you all liked my blog posts. (And keep an eye out for a couple more that may pop up from time to time.)
As always, I wish you all safe data.