Semantics and puppies

There’s a post on the (mis)appropriation of archival terminology, which is not wholly dissimilar to things I have come across in the past, though it does shift the focus to People Who Should Know Better™. I am reminded of comments I’ve heard, with slight differences in emphasis, from the IT and historian ends of things, namely that electronic media (in the form of institutional technological infrastructure or the Internet Archive) has Solved the problem of Saving Stuff (or at least rendered it a non-problem for born digital materials). I do not yet have a good canned pitch for why that is not in fact the case, and should probably develop one (or just bite the bullet and channel Marty Levitt).

Also of interest is a comment (Lance on February 29) about the difference between misapplying the term “library” versus “archive”: “[L]ibraries occupy a clear space. Everyone knows the difference between a library staffed professionally and other uses of the word. However, archives are spaces that have yet to receive such a clear demarcation.” I think it’s a strong point. It’s also going to become an increasingly complicated point, as the physical location (or even physical existence) of data becomes increasingly less important.

Trumpeting your server’s specs, uptime guarantees, migration plans, and usability of your electronic resources just doesn’t have the same visceral impact as walking into a big old building with columns and lion statues. When dealing with the digital, success is often best defined by transparency: the server didn’t crash, the search returned results. Certainly there are plenty of professions that have to deal with the frustration inherent in nobody appreciating good work, but only noticing the bad. And that sort of cycles back to the original post. It’s not just a matter of assessing success, it’s that people often don’t realize such an assessment is necessary.