Archiving vs. Saving

As an archivist, the word “archiving” means something very specific to me.  When I say “archiving” I mean selecting records for long-term preservation and maintaining them.  This means that only certain records (ex. documents, images, videos) are selected through a process using defined criteria to make a determination.

As The Deletist I will emphasize an important part of the process: not everything gets saved.  That’s actually the point.  The time, space, and resources are not available to save everything.  When I save everything so that I can restore documents in case of a system crash, I call this a backup, not an archive.

Since receiving my archivist designation, I have learned to accept different interpretations of the word in both my professional and personal life.  For example, when I speak with an IT person using the word “archive,” I know that the interpretation is “save everything, often on cheaper disk space, so restoration is possible if the system crashes.”  The goal, from the IT perspective, is about availability and restoration, which is quite different from that of an archivist.

When I speak to friends who talk about “archiving” pictures or documents, the meaning is somewhat similar to that of an IT person, except preserving everything rather than restoration might be the primary focus.  Numerous reasons exist for why people “archive” so many things.  Some possible reasons might be:

Procrastination – After amassing terabytes worth of data the sheer volume seems daunting, but is not an issue because the storage space is readily available and cheap.

Fear – Sometimes people are afraid to get rid of things for fear of needing them later, or getting in trouble for deleting something erroneously.  Fear of never being able to find anything rarely seems to enter this equation.

TIme – see procrastination. The sheer volume of stuff increases the amount of time needed to go through it, and if space isn’t a concern, why rush?

Indecision – Establishing selection criteria can be challenging. It’s not always easy to decide what to keep and what to purge.  This is a process fraught with gray areas.

Sentiment – We get attached to things for all kinds of crazy and irrational reasons which all seem perfectly valid to the person making the decision.

Today’s lesson:

If you’re going to have an “archive,” be mindful of what it actually means. And if you’re saving everything without any process involved, it’s just backup, or a giant collection of stuff.


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