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Stepping up to the task of preserving e-mail – LIBER curation workshop (6)

15 mei 2012 Gepubliceerd door Laat uw gedicht achter

Another “homeless” category of digital objects (see previous post) was the subject of a “best practice” lecture at the LIBER curation workshop: e-mail. Ivan Boserup reported on an initiative by the Danish National Library to start capturing e-mail correspondences that are or will become important for researchers of Danish history, the history of learning, etc. (slides here)

Ivan Boserup (left) with Chiara Cirinnà, organizer of the event for the Fondazione Rinascimento Digitale

To me the most interesting feature of this project is that a library takes the bold decision to start capturing e-mail content without all the organizational and technical issues surrounding e-mail having been solved. And there are many unresolved issues, as was clearly demonstrated by the many questions the audience fired at Boserup after his presentation.

The Danish KB realized that in the digital age an important source of information, personal correspondences by important Danes, threatened to get lost, as e-mails are frequently deleted and post-mortem donation is often not possible because the computers are lost. So a plan was devised to capture e-mails at the source:



Personally, I like this approach. Just go and do something, even if you know that the solution is not yet perfect. If we wait for perfection (however you define that), we may never come to grips with the digital age.
The solution transfers the task of selection from an archivist to the donator himself. A questionable move, according to some. But I myself do not see how else we can capture much digital content. There simply is too much of it out there for archivists or librarians to carefully select piece by piece. Another key characteristic of the digital age is that we have to work with a present that has not yet proven its value (see also previous post). This means that the library’s choices as to whom to provide with a MyArchive mailbox may not stand the test of time in every case. That is another thing we may have to learn to live with.


How about the authenticity of the material deposited?, someone asked. Boserup: “We can only accept limited liability, that we have faithfully preserved what we received.” Is the collection open to the public? Boserup: “Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That depends on the individual contract.”


As you can tell from this post, I really like this project. It is just the type of experiment that will help us learn to work with digital data streams. Once again, partnerships with the creators of the information are a crucial key to success.


More pens and paper than laptops at this workshop, because there was no wifi ...

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