Digitizing Our History: Why It’s Necessary Now More Than Ever

The duty of an archivist is to protect and preserve the past for its use in the future. As technology develops, the ways in which an archivist fulfills their duty develops as well. Microfilm readers are being replaced by computers. The need for digital versions of archival materials continues to grow. Digitization is becoming more important in archival institutions. Specifically in historical archives, where it is becoming a necessity.

The methods used to view historic archival materials are outdated and obsolete. Some institutions no longer have microfilm readers, making digitization the only way to view the information. Many people have never seen microfilm, and they don’t know how to use them. When an archival record is unable to be viewed, the purpose of its preservation is diminished.

The use of digitization can be a method of historic preservation. Duplicates are made of many primary sources that are too fragile for constant handling. The duplicates ensure the master copy is safe. Digitization can be seen as a new way of producing duplicates that can be used by a larger audience. Recently in the history of the United States, there has been a rise in political and social unrest. Rioting is nothing new in the United States, but the general public often forgets just how many rebellions shaped, if not defined American History. Thanks to digitization, we can access digitized copies of journals, letters, and treaties written by our forefathers with a quick Google search.

Creating a digital archive makes history readily accessible to larger audiences. Being able to view, study, and utilize a primary source document or other historical items independently of an institution or library is becoming a common way to learn about the past. Because these resources are available online, all users need is an internet connection to find what they are looking for. Within the last few years, putting educational resources online has become the norm—if not a necessity. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of remote learning made teaching, learning, studying, and research the only way to safely receive and disburse education.

In 2020, we would often hear that “history should make you uncomfortable.” The aversion to historic discomfort and the inability to learn about the history of marginalized groups has led to the erasure of historical moments, events, and figures. The overlooking of the lived experience and cultural memories of individuals in BIPOC communities is commonly known as cultural erasure. More specifically, western European nations colonized several parts of the world by doing this very thing. For example, it’s not uncommon for some school districts to understate the realities of the Atlantic slave-trade and its impact on African-Americans today; going as far as rewording or omitting the term ‘slave’ in textbooks.

Removing a subject from a schoolbook does not mean the information disappears as well. Thanks to the World Wide Web, any piece of information you want to know is right at your fingertips. Granting the public access to digital archives promotes the use of factual, verified, and historically relevant materials that are able to be viewed and used by all.

An accessible record can be a tool that can build the bridge between discrimination and understanding. Sir Winston Churchill said, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." With digitization, the opportunity to learn from history has become more accessible. Learning from history can change the present to build a better future.

If digitization has become more popular and accessible, why hasn’t it become the standard? To answer simply, it’s a costly process. A different scanner needs to be used for each type of document in the collection; there are miles of materials that need to be individually scanned. Many archivists have to use outdated scanners. If one breaks and cannot be repaired, those specific forms of materials cannot be digitized.

Interns and volunteers must be trained on how to properly handle and digitize archival material. Digitization often requires a material to be scanned several times to ensure the image is clear. Every scanned image must be reviewed, and if there is a slight imperfection in the scanned image, the process must be done until it is perfect. Then the image will need to be enhanced or brightened through photoshop. It is not an easy task to digitize everything, but with ScanPro microfilm scanners from e-ImageData, digitizing becomes a lot easier.

Archivists are not forced to struggle with broken and outdated machines anymore. The ScanPro® All-In-One™ scanners are able to scan any form of film in a single device. These scanners produce the same excellent quality of images after years of use. All e-ImageData scanners are known in the industry for their superior image quality and user-friendly interface. When the hardware and software are updated, your ScanPro scanner will update along with it! e-ImageData believes that a product should function like it is brand new, even after scanning millions of images.

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