Riddle me this ERS members: salvaging 25 year old files

An alumnus from Carleton College donated the first computer used by our student newspaper, the Carletonian, a late 1980’s MacintoshPlus.  How would you go about salvaging the files from this device?

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4 thoughts on “Riddle me this ERS members: salvaging 25 year old files

  1. Chris Halonen May 14, 2015 / 2:28 pm

    Assuming you have a more or less complete run of the student newspaper, don’t bother: if you understand how desktop computers were being used in daily work in small organizations at the time, and what the output was of that work, you know that it’s very unlikely that there’s anything of value on the computer’s floppies or hard drive (if it had one). It might be fun or amusing to browse through ancient desktop publishing files and early drafts of articles, assuming the storage media are still readable and floppy drive still working, but that doesn’t make it worthwhile. It’s a waste of your time and your organization’s resources. Being an archivist is about separating out historical records of value from the crap, not proving you know how to play with Aldus Pagemaker & old Mac Word files.

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  2. Nat Wilson May 14, 2015 / 3:40 pm

    While the content of this specific machine may not be especially valuable, there is value in knowing how to migrate old files and data to modern systems. Two well known cases of similar challenges include archiving date on old hardware in the Salman Rushdie papers at Emory and Andy Warhol’s early work with computer generated art.
    http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/digital-life-salman-rushdie
    http://www.nowseethis.org/invisiblephoto/posts/108

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  3. Chris Halonen May 14, 2015 / 4:01 pm

    Yes, and Kurt Gödel’s papers at Princeton include his housecleaning bills (http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/C0282/c01163), but that’s not a good argument for keeping housecleaning bills in every collection that comes through the door, or even for taking the time to ponder the value of housecleaning bills. If you know Salman Rushdie or Andy Warhol worked in production on a student newspaper, that might be an argument for taking the time to retrieve the files (I wouldn’t find it convincing), but at least 99% of the time (probably more) you can be sure it’s a waste of time. I’m not just being flippant or trollish: appraisal is your first task, and since there’s always too much work to do you need to avoid tasks which are little more than busy-work

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  4. Nat Wilson May 14, 2015 / 4:08 pm

    >appraisal is your first task
    I couldn’t agree more. Lucky for us the machine was still bootable and we could assess its value. In the case of Andy Warhol’s files, they had no way to assess the work without first figuring out how to read the files. Regardless, I find these puzzles fascinating on a personal level.

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