Archiving digital resources for our cultural heritage

Archiving digital resources for our cultural heritage

The British Library announced some time ago that they have expanded their legal deposit collection to include UK websites, ebooks, and posts from social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Ever since the 17th Century, the British Library has been archiving every published book in the UK, with Australia, New Zealand, and the USA following suit. Legal deposit has been widely practised around the world with the intention of capturing social history and thus providing future generations with information about our past.

Previously, legal deposit was made up of published monographs – works that had been carefully drafted and edited but now, with the advent of micro blogging and Facebook, different kinds of publishing are being considered for collection. Although it can seem like a mish mash of spontaneous thoughts and ramblings sometimes, social media provides an important insight into our society. But does it represent how we really feel? Have we lost the art of reflection?

Nevertheless, our chatter can be a good thing because it documents everyday details often overlooked by historians. History books usually concentrate on the broad view, sometimes missing personal narratives. Now future generations will be able to access the minutiae of our lives down to the words we use.  They’ll be fascinated by what we had for breakfast, or feel appalled by the way some of us are in denial of global warming.

One way we can begin to imagine what it might be like for people to study our Facebook posts one day is to read the diary of May Stewart – a Melbourne teenager from 1906. May Stewart did a lot of mashing (flirting) and smooging (kissing), had tea at Coles (Coles supermarket apparently had a tea house back then), she went to the races and ‘had a splendid’ (had a wonderful time). This valuable diary describes how an average teenager from North Fitzroy spent her days, and the document now lives at the State Library of Victoria for everyone to enjoy.

As cultural institutions begin to collect social media, this new dimension of legal deposit will provide us with much to celebrate.