Preservation Priorities

In “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” an article published in 2003, Roy Rosenzweig argued that historians should participate in the decision-making process to determine which materials archival institutions prioritize for preservation. Historians, he advised, should not leave these important decisions to archivists and librarians, presumably because historians have a better sense than those in the other groups of the ways that historical documents can best serve those in the future who would try to make sense of the past based on what was saved. Yet, in discussions with librarians, he points out, historians couldn’t make the difficult decisions. They advised preserving everything without taking into account the limited financial and staff resources of archives and libraries. “They could not make choices,” he quoted Deanna Marcum as saying.

Recently, for a project to preserve public broadcasting programs, I put together a collection development plan relying on principles derived from archivists and librarians (and my own common sense) because I couldn’t find anything written by historians that would help. I’ve asked media historians who participate in a radio preservation task force to help, and there is interest in seeing that materials they would use in their own research and teaching are preserved. It’s a start, perhaps. We’ll see how it goes.

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