Assessing Preservation of the HCLE Archive

We know what we need to do. But how do we describe it so others understand (and fund) the work?

2013 and 2014 are when HCLE has been building the framework for the construction of the Virtual Museum. General plans are in place. Initial collaborations have begun. Our network is extending into all the necessary fields: humanities, history, education, computing, computers, curation, preservation, exhibits, etc. Now the details begin to reveal themselves.

HCLE is applying for an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) Preservation Assessment Grant. (HCLE > NEH PAG – Maybe we all need shorter names.) Our first step is straightforward to us: get the right help to steer us to the best way to turn a collection into a widely-accessible digital repository. Every collection starts with a bit of chaos. Now is when we put some order to the informalities.

Here’s our draft abstract. You are welcome to comment.

1. Project abstract

The target collection is an historical record of the introduction of computing into teaching/learning environments from the early 1960s to 1990. It comprises documents (publications, correspondence, notes, manuals, product inserts, etc.), software (printed listings, paper tape, magnetic tape, audio cassette tape, various floppy disk formats), hardware (mini- and micro-computers and peripherals), and recorded conferences and interviews (multiple formats). The goal is stabilizing, preserving and inventorying educational software and supporting documents used in teaching of the humanities. In the case of historic software, transferring software from historical to modern media is not a simple case of reformatting; it is preservation because a) the original magnetic media will degrade and b) devices capable of accessing the software from original media are rapidly becoming unavailable.

Creating a digital repository sounds simple, but it only stays that way if every artifact is like the rest. Hundreds of copies of a magazine can all be processed the same way as one. Our collection is a mix of documents, software, and hardware. The documents exist as newsprint, mimeographs, dot matrix, hand-written notes, instructions on the backs of boxes, etc. The software is on such a diverse media that we may find that no one has a complete collection of drives and readers; and then, some of the software is stored as printed text that must be typed in.

a selection of the collection
a selection of the collection

Error checking may require proper emulation environments to make sure each program operates properly. (And then someone has to play the games to make sure they work.) The hardware was usually designed to only last a few years. Obsolescence wasn’t planned. Technology changed so quickly that everything was effectively obsolete as soon as it was available for sale.

We plan to hire a consultant to provide a professional opinion, and as usual be very grateful to our volunteers. While this may seem like a small task, it is a necessary one that will enable the very existence of our Virtual Museum. These are exciting times for our (currently) small museum. Thanks for being a part of it, even as a spectator.

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