I had previously enjoyed watching another tribute to obsolete technology on the History Channel's Modern Marvels program. The December 19 episode entitled Retro Tech focused on other old friends of mine: the typewriter, the film camera, and more.
Both the show and Donna's "obituary" reminded me that a couple of months ago I had read the online article Are We Losing Our Memory? or The Museum of Obsolete Technology by Alexander Stille. (Thanks to Practical Archivist Sally Jacobs for recommending it.) Written in 2002 as part of the book The Future of the Past, it remains a fresh reminder of the challenges that historians and archivists are facing as they race to keep up with changing technology. The article focuses primarily on the struggles of the National Archives and Records Administration as it works to choose which materials to save, preserve the materials that it has deemed valuable, and ensure that these items will be accessible in the future.
This reminded me of the small collection of records that I still have in my attic. It's nice to look at them sometimes, but I cannot enjoy their true audio value. Long ago my last turntable went the way that my last working VCR did in more recent years.
But on to more serious concerns raised by this subject: my role as amateur family archivist. How do the issues voiced by Alexander Stille's article apply to my personal family history collection, so painstakingly gathered over many years? Specifically:
- Treasured family photograph prints, most from the early decades of the 20th-century through the 1990s
- Paper copies of family letters and records
- Scanned digital images of family heirloom photos and records whose originals are no longer accessible
- Audio tapes of my grandfather's voice
- A wedding video on VHS (provided none too cheaply by video photographers)
- More recent images taken via digital camera
Are you as concerned as I am that much of our family history collections will have been gathered all for naught? Susan recommends the Library of Congress' Digital Preservation website's What You Can Do webpage. Stop by Susan's blog Family Oral History Using Digital Tools for a link to an online quiz about digital media to test your knowledge of the technology to which so many of us are entrusting much of our genealogical collections.
I personally intend to continue to educate myself on technology and its realities, along with the options I have for preserving my treasured family memories. Thanks to Sally and Susan for the good tips. I hope you'll consider their good advice as I am. I have too much time, effort and heart invested in my family research and collections to let it all be lost easily.