Nothing Lasts Forever: Archiving in the Digital Age

Paper will not last forever. Neither will a plastic container of leftover ramen and arts and crafts from previous years passed on from year to year to the next club president. The plastic will fall apart, and shreds of scrap paper will line the bottom. Despite not being very effective, this is how my school’s Asian American Students Association has been doing it for the past couple years. But as 2015 rolls in, one of our goals is to revamp the official club website (which started in 2009 but has been inactive between 2010-2012 and 2013-2014 for unknown reasons) to create a permanent institutional memory database and to uncover the history of our own club. Many college clubs also converting physical archives to digital archives thanks to a rise of interest in digital humanities. Digging through "the sisterhood of the traveling plastic container" and whatever else has been handed down to me, the new co-president of AASA, is like digging through a bottomless treasure trove of information.

 

Some may wonder: Why is it important to record what happened in the past?

For one, you do not want to repeat the same organizational mistakes committed in the pastespecially when planning a big event like the annual culture show. For example, it would have been nice to know how many programs we should print out based on previous attendance numbers instead of printing too few. We learned the hard way this year and were short by about 100 programs. Once the culture show was finished, the two co-heads wrote reflections and a manual to better prepare future co-heads for the job. All documents were uploaded and saved onto the club executive board Google Drive.

It is also important to be aware of previous incidents of racism on and off campus. It’s another learning from and understanding your mistakes so you never do it again type of thing. As students pass through college and move on with life, it is easy for the next leaders to forget significant events of the past when they are not properly passed down and remembered. This can also lead to time wasted repeating the same mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are avoidable had there been proper basic history/psychology/sociology education such as diversity training. A recent incident of a student hanging up a Confederate flag in a public space at Bryn Mawr sparked a renewed interest in creating a mandatory diversity training program for students, faculty and staff. The administration responded with the creation of multiple diversity councils assigned the task of creating such a curriculum when, in fact, the curriculum had already been started by a specific dormitory leadership team years ago.

A good record of previous events and executive boards also creates a network of alumni. Bryn Mawr does not have an Asian Alumni Group yet (Wellesley has one and bigger schools like Yale even host annual Asian Alumni reunions). However, I uncovered the names of some previous members of the Asian American Students Association through posts on the formerly outdated blog and Facebook group (AASA had a Facebook group before transitioning to a Facebook page in 2011). From here on, it should not be difficult to contact them and perhaps invite them back to Bryn Mawr to speak to AASA about their accomplishments and involvement in their communities.

 

Archiving is a lot easier these days with constant technological advancements and an eager force of tech-savvy millennials. All you need is basic knowledge in html/CSS and an eye for design, both of which are easy enough to self-learn from the internet. This leads to another challenge:

Is a strictly digital archive enough?

As accessible as a website can be, nothing can replace the "original cathedral of learning"-- the library. (Recognize that access to internet is still a privilege for those who can afford access to a computer or wifi.) A typical college library serves a million purposes other than a book collective these days. These purposes includes a computer lab, printing station, study space, writing center, gallery, special collections, museum, and digital archive (Bryn Mawr uses Tripod). So I also should look into whether or not the library wants the original arts and crafts made to represent Asian American identity. I don't think the quality of art is high enough to make a gallery or museum exhibit on, but I just don't want them to rot inside our "sisterhood of the traveling plastic container" in my dorm room. In the meantime, I've taken pictures of all the art works and plan to upload them to the AASA website as a digital art archive soon.

Other college clubs have had unsuccessful attempts at paper archiving. The Swarthmore Asian Students Organization has a space in a filing cabinet of manila folders dating back to the 1990s in Swarthmore’s Intercultural Center, but they say that no one really checks it. Bryn Mawr AASA has tried to keep a binder of meeting minutes and posters in the plastic bin, but over time we became lazy and never updated it, opting for Google Drive instead. While I do think it is important to have easy, unrestricted access to a club history database, I wonder who would actually read a physical record of documents stored in a public place like the school library. While I am unsure of the effectiveness of physical archiving, I am certain about the need for digital archiving. The best chance of preserving institutional memory for now seems to be to have both digital and partial physical archives, and that definitely takes time and effort to maintain.

 

2014 was an eventful year.
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