46. Digital Objects are Special too: Our 40th Birthday Cake

University of Bradford 40th birthday cake, October 2006

University of Bradford 40th birthday cake, October 2006.

2006 was the University of Bradford’s 40th birthday, celebrated at events over the summer and autumn, notably a party in Richmond Atrium in October and the Big Bradford Weekend in June.  Special Collections staff shared the wealth of history in the University Archive, creating exhibitions such as Give Invention Light, featured below.  I was particularly reminded of the 40th because we are now planning some really special things for the 50th anniversary: in 2016!

University of Bradford 40th birthday balloons, Atrium, October 2006

University of Bradford 40th birthday balloons, Atrium, October 2006

These photographs also illustrate something people don’t realise about archives.    Archives are not just books and documents made of paper or parchment.  Communication is now dominated by digital: to be useful in the future, archive collecting needs to reflect this.  Digital objects may be new versions of existing physical objects, as are most of the other images in this exhibition.  They may come to us on CDs, DVDs, memory sticks, floppy disks (remember those?), hard drives etc etc.   Many now, like the photographs in this story, are “born-digital” and stay that way.  And think of how much now happens in “the cloud”: on email, facebook, twitter and other social media, not to mention this blog.

Give Invention Light, exhibition of University history shown in Atrium October 2006

Give Invention Light, exhibition of University history shown in Atrium October 2006

While digital objects are much easier to copy and share and much lighter on physical space, there are many challenges in looking after them properly.  Above all, decisions need to be taken earlier in their lives: to name them and store them in ways that make them useful in the future.  Paper materials can usually sit happily for 20 years or more before making their way to an archive: unless very unlucky with poor conditions, they will still be readable.  20-year old digital files finding their way to an archive for the first time will be much more challenging!  These images are only six years old, but are only useful now because we took action to keep them as soon as they were taken.

Alumni and friends enjoying show at Big Bradford Weekend, June 2006

Alumni and friends enjoying show at Big Bradford Weekend, June 2006

I wonder how we will record the 50th anniversary?  Or the 100th?

Find out more about digital archives and get good advice from this blog post by our colleagues at West Yorkshire Archives Service: Computer discs aren’t archives are they?   Those who want something a little more technical, check out the JISC beginners’ guide to digital preservation or Don’t Panic! from the West Yorkshire Archives Service.

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