They protect our future by guarding our past from fires and floods. From hell and high water. And most frequently, from apes with chisels and hammers.
I attended a fantastic presentation about archive digitization at SEAALL/SWALL’s annual conference this month, themed Big D: Data, Discovery, and Dicta. Erik Beck of Colorado Law described how archivists protect digitized treasures, from moving a laptop upstairs to save research from a 2013 campus flood to dispersing digital files in different formats across multiple continents. He compared in partial jest patrons in the library to apes with hammers and chisels in an ice palace who might either “carve crystal swans... or shatter your ice table.” Beck honed in on the importance of making resources available for doing great things, while protecting unique material from injury and tampering. For our part, Ravel and Harvard Law Library are collaborating to preserve American case law by digitizing the school’s corpus of case law for free access worldwide, and storing physical backups in a salt mine in rural Utah where primates can’t get to them. Great archivists are innovating constantly to protect big data, and daydream about ideas like using cloud storage hosted in dispersed and isolated electrical grids to keep irreplaceable information safe. The contiguous United States has two major and one minor electrical “interconnections”; as Beck described them, there’s East, West, and Texas.