Minds of Carolina

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The Situation and Challenge

While all Carolina faculty have substantial and growing bodies of work in the published scholarly, research, and pedagogical literatures, this is but a small portion of useful material they generate throughout their careers. The valuable, yet unpublished works and insights faculty amass during their lives need to be easily and voluntarily available to citizens of North Carolina and people throughout the nation and world. Due to small staffs and chronic under-funding, such personal and scholarly papers of only the most notable Carolina faculty will be preserved in the University Archives. There is simply neither time nor space to process and store the significant materials from the range of UNC faculty. There is even less hope of this material, much of which presently exists in paper or other analog formats, being digitized through present university facilities and made available to the world at large. Perhaps most alarming, materials already in digital form today have little chance of being accessible in 2013 if active preservation measures are not undertaken now and throughout their useful lifespans (1). While digital data holds the promise of ubiquitous access, the inherent fragility and evanescence of media and files, the rapid obsolescence of software and hardware, and the need for well constructed file systems and metadata offer little hope of longevity for information that is not intentionally preserved. We need only think of NASA’s recent inability to locate a 9-year-old report on the space shuttle heat shield tiles to realize that having materials in digital form ensures neither preservation nor access. NASA was able to access the report, but only by contacting the author, now a Stanford professor, and asking her for a copy.

Carolina is not unique in facing the loss of a significant portion of its scholarly and cultural assets, both print and digital. Colleges and universities have never tapped the potential in personal collections of their faculty. Two factors make the continuation of such neglect and oversight unacceptable today and speak to the need for support of ubiquitous personal archiving (2). First, digital materials will not wait to be preserved until the end of a scholar’s career. If steps are not taken early then there will be nothing for a university archivist to preserve for future generation. Second, networked access makes the value of previously “hidden” print materials that have been digitized so much greater for so many audiences. While print materials withstand benign neglect far better than digital or media files, access to them is always limited in that it required researchers to travel to them or copies be made of them. Thus they remain hidden and esoteric for all but the most diligent researchers.

Carolina can be unique in its response to both the opportunities and difficulties that digital information presents. No university or agency has tackled the personal digital archiving problem. Carolina, with its School of Information and Library Science (SILS), is preeminently prepared to take up this challenge and produce a model system that will make the “Minds of Carolina” accessible to Carolinians and the world for generations to come and facilitate personal digital archiving throughout higher education.