As more authors have taken to researching, writing and rewriting on computers, archives are presented with a complicated tangle of obstacles in trying to organize and store digital data.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, archives are grappling with organizing a whole new species of information as the acquire more and more floppy disks, computers, external hard drives, and other digital content.
Harvard has acquired 50 floppy disks from John Updike. Emory now has four laptops, an external hard drive and a “personal digital assistant” once belonging to Salman Rushdie. At the University of Texas there is a zip drive and a laptop acquired from Norman Mailer.
Such a vast amount of information presents a problem to archives. The article’s author, Steve Kolowich, warns: “Mining, sorting, and archiving every bit of data stored on author’s computers could become a chore of paralyzing tedium and diminishing value.” But Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, associate director at the University of Maryland’s Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, describes how researchers might use this unparalleled quantity of information: “You could potentially look at a browser history, see that he visited a particular Web site on a particular day and time. And then if you were to go into the draft of one of his manuscripts, you could see that draft was edited at a particular day and hour, and you could establish a connection between something he was looking at on the Web with something that he then wrote.”