How Archives transformed in the Digital era

The Word archive is derived from the Greek word ‘Arkheion’. The word was further referred from ‘Archon’, which meant a magistrate who oversaw the town hall where all the official public documents were stored. The Word Archive came to use for the first time in the 17th century.

Archives are also known as ‘memory institutions’ because they record and preserve memories and form a significant part of culture, community, official and unofficial history of any place or region or state, or any institution. Their function is to collect, store and preserve artefacts and documents of historical, cultural, and legal importance from the yesteryears and the present so that they remain accessible, informative, and useful to future generations. In general, any organization, government institution or individual can build archives. The National Archives, UK has described archives as “collections of records or documents, selected for lasting preservation due to their historical value, significance as evidence, or as a source for research studies”. International Council on Archives (ICA) has defined archives as “documentary result of various human activities conserved for its long-term value”. They further described archives as contemporary accounts created to can provide a true and verified version of past events.

The significance of the archives lies in the orderly collection of crucial source documents accumulated over an individual’s or organizations’ lifespan and preserved, which can serve as evidence or reference for future work. As archives are the repositories housing various historical documents and records of value, archival research is facilitative for scholars and researchers looking for data to assess and facts to study from the original documents. However, owing to the vastness and diversity of ample archival documents and records, archival analysis is a hectic and tedious job. Access to the artefacts and documents stored in an archive is not an easy task and requires permission from the respected authority. In addition, most of the information stored in traditional achieves is paper-based and thus, is susceptible to decay with time. The aforementioned limitation of traditional archives can be overcome by archiving documents and artefacts in various digital formats, which can ensure that the information is preserved for a substantially longer period.

With the advent of newer digital technologies, it became easier and more convenient to store and preserve the information in the digital space. With the assistance of new digital tools and methods, the process of transcending information from the physical world to the digital world became much efficient and easier. 

Digital archiving is an area where the relationship between digital tools/methods and information preservation can be witnessed. It is a blend of the former and current storage of information. Their function is similar to traditional archives, as repositories of elaborated collection of information in various digital formats at a virtual location. This also makes digital archives more accessible and democratic as the physical constraints are eliminated.

Advantages of Digital Archives:

  • The the digital archive allows “anywhere-anytime” accessibility to users ensuring a reduction of time, cost, and money.
  • The redundancy of information stored in digital archives can be reduced, which can promote ease of access.
  • No geographical site is required to build a digital archive, which is cost-effective.
  • The simultaneous requests of access from multiple users can be addressed by creating multiple copies of information stored, which can overcome the issue of bottlenecks encountered in traditional archives.
  • Managing and navigating objects or records stored digitally are easier in digital archives, which allow developing capacity to preserves terabytes of information.
  • Digital archives are less subjected to bureaucracy like traditional archives, which can ensure data accessibility to the general public.

Digital archives are not perfect. Many times due to the digital divide and other constraints, researchers are not able to access the information. Sometimes the information challenges the authority and due to this, the information can be unavailable in the digital archives because of censorship. But there is no denying that digital archives have transformed the way information is stored and processed.