As the legislative session winds down, I am cautiously optimistic that the General Assembly will include funding for a new Tennessee State Library and Archives building in the next state budget. I am optimistic because I have heard from many House and Senate members who support funding for the new building. But I am also cautious because I believe there are some lingering misconceptions about this project.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that the Library and Archives should focus on creating electronic versions of its records instead of trying to find space for them in a new building. There are several points to make about that.
First of all, the Library and Archives already has an active program in which digital copies of records are being created and made available online. This effort is a very important part of our ongoing strategy to ensure access to records for people who might not be willing or able to travel to the Library and Archives building in downtown Nashville.
However, it’s also important to understand that the Library and Archives has millions of pages of documents, photographs and maps that haven’t yet been electronically scanned. Making digital copies of all of them within a reasonable time would be cost prohibitive costing in the hundreds of millions, far more than what a new building is expected to cost. Scanning of documents would have to continue forever since the Library and Archives receives more records from state agencies and private donors every week.
There’s also a widely-held belief that digital records would last forever. This simply isn’t true. Digital files are susceptible to becoming corrupted. As anyone who has dealt with corrupted files on a personal computer knows, it isn’t always possible to retrieve them once they’re lost and other technical elements become obsolete including software that is no longer supported.
Just for the sake of argument, though, let’s say we could digitize all of the Library and Archives’ records quickly, cheaply and without fear that they might turn into unreadable gobbledygook within a decade or less. Would you really want to get rid of the original historic documents? I think most of us have seen a digital copy of the Declaration of Independence at some point in our lives, but that doesn’t mean that priceless originals are ready for the paper shredder.
Tennessee Secretary of State Says, “A New State Library and Archives Can’t Afford More Funding Delays”
Filed by March 27, 2017on