“Some experts speculate that the last few decades will be some of the poorest documented in history because the information created or the media it resides on will not stand the test of time,” says Conrad Stoesz, archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Centre and the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies.
The two centres have launched a joint fundraising project, dubbed Text to Terabytes, to help fund the intake of archival records that arrive in an array of ever-changing digital formats.
“Technology is rapidly changing,” says Stoesz. “Archivists the world over are struggling to know and predict the best practices, standards, equipment, and formats in which to preserve material.”
At the centre of the project is a gift of films by internationally respected filmmaker Otto Klassen, who has spent a lifetime documenting Mennonite history on film. For a minimum donation of $30 to the Text to Terabyte project, donors can receive one of Klassen’s works.
Klassen’s drive to preserve and provide public access aligns with the core mandates for the two Winnipeg-based national Mennonite archive centres. But in today’s digital world, preserving and providing access is becoming more complicated.
Digital versions of archival materials offer convenient access to rare materials. However, managing and preserving the digital version and the original format demands resources (digital storage space, staff time, and equipment). Increasingly, researchers expect prompt service, with digital results sent electronically. In addition, the centres receive records in native digital format and need to devise durable practices to ensure retrieve-ability of information in the future.
The Text to Terabyte project will also assist the centres to better care for original documents, establish electronic solutions to the new digital reality, and enhance services.