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Data Story by @gnip

GNIP: What are the big concerns among digital archivists?

Generally I think digital archivists who focus on the web are concerned with the quantity of information continuously created and shared across the globe, tracking this proliferation, its speed, and the various networks through which data travels. The big concerns are around the interplay of these things; for traditional librarians and archivists this has meant a shift to a hybrid role, as custodians and as mediators. Offline: media format management, migration, and interoperability continue to pose serious problems to preservation, as is it traditionally understood in those institutions.
I think a major concern for digital archivists is also managing what is no longer there. Salvaging efforts by Jason Scott’s team of rogue archivists to rescue early web histories – such as the abandoned GeoCities and Friendster networks – highlights this point. It also raises critical issues around data ownership, access, and preservation. Rick Prelinger (Prelinger archives) and Brewster Kahle (Internet Archive/Wayback Machine) have challenged these ideas through important archival interventions. As did Kenneth Goldsmith, with UbUWeb. And, as an example of a local effort, Lori Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab (at the University of Colorado – Boulder) is host to a number of old computers that allow researchers to access games and electronic literature in their original contexts. This is also an important facet of digital preservation, down to the machines and the hardware. I like to think of these examples as “archivism” because there is an inherent politic to the archive, ignited by a kind of activism that is often aware, if not defiant, of the newness of ‘new’ media and the blind hyperconsumption it invites. These initiatives tend to be aligned with a kind of self-reflexive media archaeology, perhaps more than digital archiving.
Other types of concerns about the digital archive are more aptly addressed through artistic and scholarly interventions that both contextualise media historically, and revisit its underlying concepts and theories, such as authenticity and originality. In particular, work that addresses archives in exile, everyday people’s oral histories, database logics, queer temporalities, imaginary collections, representation and memory, performing the archive, etc., contributes greatly to our changing understanding of the archive, its power and potential, as well as its failures and limitations. Here, I’m thinking of Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Ramesh Srinivasan, Tess Takahashi, Jane Anderson, Ann Cvetkovich, Sameer Farooq & Mirjam Linschooten, Anjali Arondekar, Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, among many others invested in the reconceptualisation of the archive as model and practice.
All that being said, I don’t know that anyone officially qualifies as a “digital archivist” (yet) because the issues are so complex: the ideal digital archivist of today is either a team of researchers, creatives, industry, engineers, artists and programmers; or, each individual, empowered more than ever to document, share and (hopefully) preserve and pass on media collections, for (and from within) a range of communities who determine for themselves the pertinence of the archive.
Read full interview "Data Story: Mél Hogan on Digital Archiving":