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Research – Correspondence Archives in the Age of Email

As a follow up to my previous postings – What is the fate of deleted Presidential tweets? and Obama White House E-mail Archiving Plan Revealed – See Also – Correspondence Archives in the Age of Email: Technology, Privacy, and Policy Challenges by Senior Program Associate Kristen C. Ratanatharathorn on the US-UK task force currently developing a framework to address the challenges of preserving email correspondence: “We send and receive more emails than many of us know how to conveniently organize. That’s no major obstacle when messages are used for everyday purposes like conducting business with limited senders and recipients. In archival collections, however, email messages take on a longer life, for a much larger audience, and offer a unique research value for future generations. Email will inform our children and grandchildren about who we were and how we lived.Our ability to access personal correspondence between senior government officials has benefited observers in academia, politics, and the public. Email preservation, for example, has allowed historians to understand the full story of the Iran-Contra Affair, the scandal that rocked the political world in 1986…Despite the trove of details a single email can unearth, rigorous cataloguing of email communication remains the exception, not the rule. Instead, those trying to understand the recent historical record are, too often, left feeling the way many of us do with our personal inboxes: searching in vain for that one elusive message. That’s why The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Digital Preservation Coalition in the UK have organized a Task Force on Technical Approaches to Email Archives. The task force, composed of 18 members from national libraries, universities, archives, and industry, is halfway through a year-long process to assess current efforts to preserve email and develop a framework to address the challenges associated with email archives. By the end of 2017, the task force will report on its findings and recommendations for actions that archives could take in the next two to five years to safely acquire and preserve email for future research use…”

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