Archiving Information

Eric Ribbens E-Ribbens at WIU.EDU
Fri Apr 28 11:31:03 CDT 2000

As the son of a librarian, it's interesting to follow this thread, but I
can assure y'all that these are matters which librarians have thought very
deeply about. If you are seriously trying to preserve any information, talk
to your friendly librarian! Heck, I'd suggest talk even to unfriendly
librarians...if such an entity exists ;)

Secondly, I think one of the important thoughts emerging here is the
importance of managing information, not just accumulating it. I've moved my
own personal information to five different states, plus several moves at my
Ph.D. institution, including both paper and electronic stuff. My electronic
stuff has migrated from Lotus 2.1 (DOS) to ProCite 5 (Windows 95/98) and
I've had to export it from a program and re-import it into others several
times. This is a part of the process, people. Either you keep and maintain
the machinery necessary to access the information, or (in my opinion,
preferable) you take the time to port it to the newer technology.

Third, it should be clear to all of us that both paper and electronic
information can be corrupted, stolen, lost, damaged, etc. In this regard I
believe electronic info is far superior, because copies can easily be made
and stored elsewhere. I own more than 1000 books. Some are valuable, some
are junk. All are valuable to me, and I would be extremely unhappy to lose
them. But it's far more likely that I lose my first edition of Edwin Way
Teale than it is that I lose my undergraduate honor's thesis data, because
my data is stored in at least three different locations, and regularly
updated. Years ago, I visited Kansas State University (I really wanted to
do my graduate work there, but my wife hated the idea of moving to
Manhattan...long story), and I think the best motto for this discussion was
hanging in the computer lab there:

"Blessed are the pessimists, for they have made backups."

I'm sure all of you have students with tales of woe about a paper, project,
etc. that was "almost finished" and the disk failed, or the power surged,
or the laptop was stolen, or ... So I make a point of telling them at the
beginning of the semester MAKE BACKUPS and keep them on a separate disk in
a separate place, and that it's just not a valid excuse to say that the
computer ate your work.

If you are doing work, it should be done well, and that includes making
sure that it stays accessible. This is especially true for the taxonomists
and systematics people; we have a tendency to hoard stuff, document it
poorly, leave piles of things undone... in my past job I became curator of
an herbarium with unmounted specimens with labels as far back as 1965! Many
more specimens were not labeled, or unmounted with numbers written on the
newspaper but no collector notes around...I threw away a lot of stuff
someone spent a lot of time on. Make sure that doesn't happen to your work.


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