I’m involved in a project for training support staff to deal with non-research data, and it reminded me of something that happened a few years ago. I was at a college reunion dinner, and the head of the college remarked that while they used to have a record of which student had been in which room in a given year, that information was now lost ‘because we now computerise the room lists’.
Now why should computerisation mean that this information was lost? Why not save the room list each year on to a spreadsheet or text file which could be archived for posterity? And/or print out the list in hard copy and archive it along the room lists from earlier years? Of course this means adding another stage to the process. When the list was on paper there was a physical object to be dealt with, and the procedure at the end of the year was to send it to the College archive. A computerised list can be all too easily deleted when no longer of immediate use, and a new procedure is needed to make sure that it is archived at the end of the year. But it’s hardly much of a burden to do this – just a question of introducing this into the routine of staff at the college.
Why do it at all? Not just so that nostalgic students can occupy their old rooms when they return for reunions. Future historians might be interested for example in how r0oms were allocated to women (at first) and chosen by women (later). I was at the college soon after women arrived and we knew what principles were applied, but that memory could be lost over time. Or the information might be of interest to a future biographer of someone at the college. What view did they have from their window when they were writing this poem? Who were their neighbours?