Archives might often be thought of as just “old” records. A black and white photograph or a storage room with boxes on shelves may come to mind. While these two things can indeed be archives, records have evolved, both in form and in the way that they are managed. Information and historical events are increasingly being recorded digitally, now more than ever. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is particularly true for organizations, such as Unity Health Toronto, where a large number of staff work remotely. That is why the Unity Health Archives is launching a new initiative to preserve valuable records created digitally across its three sites. These are the records which document Unity Health’s historical development, core values, major achievements and significant changes. Our mission is to ensure that these archives can be preserved long-term and accessed in the future.
Digital files, however, cannot be managed the same way as physical materials, and contrary to popular belief, digital content does not “last forever”. Certain factors pose a threat to important digital information at Unity Health, such as: the rapid accumulation of content, changing technologies, and staff turnover which may often lead to misplaced records. We risk gaps in our history when the contents of digital files are lost and unrecoverable. When it is possible, recovering and accessing old digital content can be a time-consuming and costly process.
The best solution is to implement a digital preservation program which supports records appraisal, archiving and disposal practices. There is no better time to start preserving important digital records than now. A digital preservation program can not only help to preserve Unit Health’s digital memory but also establish an archiving process which encourages systematic management of digital information and reduces unnecessary digital storage. We hope that in time, some of these practices can be adopted throughout Unity Health to departments which regularly deposit to the archive. Changes in the way digital files are stored and organized by teams can improve their ability to locate needed information, thus improving work efficiency. As for the Archives team, our objective is to create a central digital archive which will house our organization’s digital records with historical value.
This project has begun with the development of a digital strategy and policy which will guide archival staff. Next we will build the digital archive by setting up a technical infrastructure and adding content. Our end goal is to have a digital space where users can access photographs of events, do some fact-checking, use past projects as inspiration for new initiatives and more. Unity Health staff, students, physicians and volunteers will have the opportunity to view digital records, much like they would at our three physical archives locations. As we continue to develop this exciting project, we invite any questions or recommendations from the Unity Health community.
-Roxanne Wildenstein, Digital Preservation Archivist