Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


In everything we do we leave behind traces, fragmented remnants of our lives: muddy footprints on the sidewalk, crumpled papers abandoned on library computer terminals, empty water bottles and pen caps. Physical items floating around in the world waiting to be scavenged, thrown out, or washed away by the next rain storm.

Within the digital world, the traces themselves may be different, but they are no less numerous than their physical cousins. Comments on YouTube videos, status updates on Facebook and Twitter, search history, bookmarks, file copies floating around your hard drive...

Archivists are interested in preserving these traces (when they possess some significance or hold valuable qualities), and
digitally capturing and organizing these fragments poses many new challenges and is prompting the evolution of new methods and policies on appraisal and collection. I think the existence of traces is quite fascinating. We are leaving bits and pieces of ourselves all over the web, often without a thought of how we might recover them or who else might stumble across them. And it's not just the privacy issues involved, but the greater question of what is going to happen to all this user-generated content that is hanging around, taking up space, in some cases developing a life of its own as it spawns reply postings, re-tweets, and "likes" long after the original creator has left the room, gone offline, or moved on to their next project. Some things will simply fade away, or fall off the map as pages are updated and sites or profiles are taken down, but a lot of it persists, maybe hidden in the coding, but there nonetheless. Ghosts in the system.

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