“The disappearance of written letters, then mail, bookstores, books, and now libraries. Where have all the hard copies gone…?”
Let me start by saying I have no problem with the exponentially more efficient mediums of e-mail and the internet. I think they’re great and I am grateful for them. I often find myself pondering the internet as a modern Great Library of Alexandria, but obviously with the advantage of being available almost everywhere to everyone at any time.
But as any historian will tell you, the internet and e-mail present a problem when it comes to preserving primary sources for future research. If you stop and think about it for a moment, the steep course the written word has taken over the past 50 years is no surprise. With the advent of the internet, “snail mail” has declined to a point where the postal service has and continues to go through a real financial crisis. With the ever-increasing presence of electronic devices, it is not surprising that cursive skills have fallen by the wayside or have been left behind altogether. How often have you sat down to actually pen a letter or message longer than a list of groceries in the past 5 years?
E-mail means letters written by the people who are involved in and have experienced the times first hand, are not generally preserved, but deleted with the click of a button. Goodbye primary source (unless you’re the NSA, I guess). There’s also the issue of electronic communication being edited and altered, and how to verify its authenticity, let alone accuracy. And an innumerable amount of information on the internet is dumped everyday. Not surprisingly, its the National Libraries around the world that have come together to address this issue:
A couple of years back, I read an article that an organization – I believe in England – had formed to start archiving the internet, or at least the parts it deemed worth the time and effort to preserve. Today, trying to look this effort up, I came across a site that is worth spending some time on: The International Internet Preservation Consortium http://www.netpreserve.org/
Our libraries and the people who work at them are champions of knowledge and our history. It seems it is the libraries who, by preserving our past and present, are ultimately our collective messengers to the future.