The Penn State Special Collections Library has traditionally collected material of cultural and historical significance in paper form, but these days just about everything is “born-digital,” and never exists at all on paper. Instead of hand-written letters, people email or text-message one another. Instead of diaries, people keep blogs on the Web. Software suites like Microsoft Office are used to create everyday documents, and even photographs, audio recordings, and video are now just files on a computer.
Born-digital documents present new challenges for archives. Paper documents are often accessible in the same form decades after their creation. In the right conditions, paper can last hundreds of years. Electronic documents, on the other hand, may not be accessible nearly as long without the right hardware, operating systems, and software, and some forms of electronic documentation are so ephemeral they may never be preserved at all (the average lifespan of a website, for example, is estimated to be three months). Digital documents depend heavily on the technologies that create them, and as we all know those technologies are updating and changing every year.
The Penn State Special Collections Library has hired me, Ben Goldman, to grapple with these issues moving forward. As the new Digital Records Archivist, I will help ensure that we are in a position to capture and preserve today’s digital heritage for future generations of researchers. Among other things, I will be responsible for developing and implementing workflows and processes related to the acquisition, management, and preservation of born-digital holdings. I will also be contributing to the ongoing development of Penn State’s microservice-based repository system, ScholarSphere, which is being launched this Fall as a resource for Penn State researchers to disseminate their digital scholarly works. In future iterations of the platform, we hope to be able to store and provide access to born-digital archival collections.
Prior to joining Penn State, I was the Digital Programs Archivist at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC), where I started the AHC’s first formal electronic records program and managed its mass digitization program. I earned a Master’s of Science degree in Library and Information Science for Syracuse University in 2009, with an emphasis on Digital Libraries.
I am excited to be joining Penn State and look forward to tackling this challenge of preserving born-digital archives.