Email for the ages

See this article, “British library starts email archive.” Here’s a snippet from that article:

The British Library is creating an archive to store the emails of the nation’s top authors and scientists, as the written word is replaced by electronic messages.

Emails from literary figures such as Ted Hughes, the late English Poet Laureate, will form a new digital archive alongside the library’s collection of paper correspondence, which includes love letters written by Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas.

Curators have become concerned that conventional letters are becoming increasingly rare as writers and scientists abandon paper for more perishable email.

The library has appointed the world’s first digital manuscripts curator to collect important material that would otherwise end up as deleted items.

It has already acquired emails written by Hughes, and has created a list of important people whose computer files it would like to collect, including J.K. Rowling, A.S. Byatt, Alastair Campbell and Stephen Hawking. Jeremy John, who has set up the library’s first digital archive, is appealing to writers and scientists to ask them to store their correspondence in a way that will allow future generations to see their work.

I came across this via this entry from the Word Munger, and I tend to agree with his take on it: in general, probably not a bad idea, but do we really need to keep the spams and the “meet me at 3” kinds of messages for J.K. Rowling for the ages? Probably not, but the idea of keeping important emails is of course valid.

I keep most of the emails I send and a lot of the important emails I receive. I keep emails I receive for all kinds of different reasons, some in a sort of “CYA” fashion, some because they were really funny, some because they were really interesting. I have two problems in general with this, though. First, in switching computers (which I do every couple years, of course), I end up losing track of some of these email messages. Second, and this is a problem discussed in this Australian article, the software and eventually the hardware gets lost, doesn’t run, and/or breaks.

Part of the solution for this problem of software and hardware currency is to retreat back to an older and more stable technology, paper. Lots of people concerned about archiving and the ‘net have talked about that with all sorts of different things– web sites, including blogs– and email messages. One of these days, when I have more than 15 minutes, I might actually try to print an “archive” of materials. Of course, then the problem is where do you put the print-outs….

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