Archivists keep data from being lost in cyberspace
By Todd R. Weiss
(IDG) -- Librarians and archivists have been saving artifacts, newspapers, photographs and books for years to preserve historical records. Today, their work is made even more complicated because so much of our unfolding history is chronicled on the Internet.
That has meant changes to archiving procedures, including decisions over what electronic information should be saved and how to store it.
According to Elizabeth Adkins, global information manager at Ford Motor Co., "There is a general recognition in the archival profession that people want to do this, but technology hasn't caught up yet."
These issues also affect businesses, Adkins and others pointed out. But in many cases, they said, companies haven't been paying close attention to their own digital histories. Although large, established companies have for years saved much of their past on paper, it's unclear whether they have been as thorough with their first forays on the Web.
"There's a whole lot that's come and gone," said Carol Baroudi, owner of research firm Baroudi and Associates in Arlington, Mass.
Some companies have made progress. Amy Fischer, corporate archivist at Procter & Gamble Co., said the Cincinnati-based consumer products maker has been saving digital records since it started its first Web site in 1994.
But there has been no archiving road map, she said, and much of what has been done was by trial and error. "There's been a lot of hand-wringing in the business archive community," Fischer said.
Procter & Gamble, established in 1837 as a small, family-operated soap and candle business, has for years collected and archived its printed ads for products ranging from Ivory soap to Pepto-Bismol. "It makes sense that we save the electronic stuff, too," Fischer said.
The company saved its earliest Web sites only on paper printouts because no one knew how to save them digitally at the time, she said. Now all of the company's Web and intranet sites are archived electronically to maintain a link to the company's past.
"Not everyone is doing it," Fischer said of other companies. "But by now, most people are aware that they need to be doing it."
Adkins said Ford is getting there. Several years ago, the company began looking at what to do about its digital history. Next year, it will begin a formal archive using Portable Document Format files created with Adobe Acrobat software, she said.
Ford's first Web site was launched in 1995, but neither that version nor the updates that followed were ever officially saved, she said.
"The Internet is a tool that's designed for moving a business forward, and the people involved don't necessarily think of the ground they're breaking," Adkins said. "People are more caught up in getting the job done than about preserving their efforts."
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