DAILY INSIGHT: How are we archiving our data?

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

Recently, I got a new (to me) laptop and took the opportunity to try to reorganize my old files. I gathered the old files into new directories and then wanted to check out what was in some of the files. So, I went to open some of those old files and it took some work to convert some of those old file extensions and I had a moment of silence for Claris Works. I still have some much older files from the late 1980s that are still on 5 1/4 discs. So are those materials lost forever? How about those files stored on Jaz disks and ZIP disks. It makes me flash back to the microcards that were developed in the early 1970s. By 1990, technology had moved on and it was impossible to find a printer for a microcard reader. I have tons of old archived e-mail in similar states. I am thankful I had the foresight to export most of those to text files, ugly but still usable.

I do wonder what thought is being put into archiving our data? Will we still have presidential libraries that are useful and full of well-organized correspondence or will the simply massive volume of texts, e-mails and other documents be too overwhelming for researchers? Will we be dependent on search engines to gather the data for us?

I was working with a researcher in England who was going through some old records for me in the National Archives at Kew. He was taking images of documents for me that had not been opened or read in nearly 230 years. Although the cursive handwriting might be difficult for my son to read, I am still able to access those documents and understand them more than two centuries later. I am sure that the clerk sitting at Gibraltar writing those reports never thought about the legacy he was leaving for the future; he was more likely more worried about getting enough to eat and not being killed by a stray cannonball.

So, how are we keeping the district's records? Are they in formats that will stand the test of time? What can the IT staff do to ensure that critical records aren't lost? Two hundred and thirty years from now, will people be able to access any of the documents we created? Will someone be able to find this blog in the digital archives of the future? Though not a glamorous topic, how we will ensure the organizational legacy of our schools and districts is an important concept to consider.

Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning. Follow North Boone on Twitter @NBCUSD200.