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Formation process and preservation of a natural electronic archive

Maria Esteva

ASIS&T 2008 Annual Meeting (AM08 2008)
Columbus, Ohio, October 24-29, 2008


Summary

This paper presents a case of formation process study and preservation of a digital archive. The digital archive was created during the late 1980’s and 90’s, a period during which information technologies were being massively adopted in the work-place and problems were compounded by the nature and conditions of its electronic records and systems. The study was prompted by concerns expressed by the archives’ creators about the computing resources, the costs involved, and the need to preserve their electronic records and systems vis-a-vis the presence of the signed and sealed paper copies. Their doubts surfaced the complexities and limitations of private institutions when they are simultaneously faced with the task of closing down and deciding the fate of their archives and their place in history. The approach used to study the digital archive was to consider it akin to an archeological site. Using interview methods; primary and secondary sources; and metadata extraction, file viewers and file transformation software, I conducted a systematic study of the archive’s components. The study revealed information about the technical and social contexts involved in the archives’ formation, and about the way in which its creators used it and valued it over time. The results of the study directed the design of a preservation strategy aimed at maintaining evidence of the digital archive’s formation process and continuous documentation of its evolution. The attributes characterizing the archive at hand led to the development of the concept of “natural electronic archives.”


  
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