Email tomorrow … and next year … and forever

      Feb 28, 2012
      The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) released a new report on preserving email. According to the report, e-mail is a defining feature of our age, and a critical element in all transactions, everyone depends on it and is strengthened by it. The new Technology Watch Report from the DPC highlights practical ways to ensure that e-mail remains accessible.

      Press release - Preserving Email DPC Technology Watch Report now available

      Email is a defining feature of our age and a critical element in all manner of transactions. Industry and commerce depend upon email; families and friendships are sustained by it; government and economies rely upon it; communities are created and strengthened by it.  Voluminous, pervasive and proliferating, email fills our days like no other technology.  Complex, intangible and essential, email manifests important personal and professional exchanges.  The jewels are sometimes hidden in massive volumes of ephemera, and even greater volumes of trash.  But it is hard to remember how we functioned before the widespread adoption of email in public and private life.

      Institutions, organizations and individuals have a considerable investment in - and legal requirements to safeguard - large collections of email.  IT managers and archivists have long recognised that email requires careful management if it is to be available in the long term but practical advice about how to do this is surprisingly sparse.  So a new ‘Technology Watch Report’ from the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) will be of wide interest.

      ‘The first email was probably sent by researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965’, explained Chris Prom of the University of Illinois, the report’s author. ‘It has long since gone missing, deemed too trivial to be worth preserving.’

      ‘Since then email has become a valuable documentary form because people typically use it to write things that were not intended for wide revelation at the time. So it can contain material which researchers – and high court judges – find incredibly useful.’

      ‘Users normally shoulder the ultimate responsibility for managing and preserving their own email.  This exposes important records to needless risks and is counterproductive in many cases. But it doesn’t have to be like this.  Individuals and organizations can lay the foundation for long term access so long as they understand the technical standards that underlie email systems. Based on this understanding, they can implement sensible preservation strategies.’ 

      ‘The Preserving Email report provides a comprehensive advanced introduction to the topic for anyone who has to manage a large email archive in the long term: and in the long term that will be most of us.’

      Gareth Knight of King’s College London welcomed the report.  ‘Preserving Email provides an excellent overview of the topic, drawing together observations made in a number of research projects to provide a succinct overview of the legal, technical, and cultural issues that must be addressed to ensure that these digital assets can be curated and preserved in the long-term. Its conclusion, providing a set of pragmatic, easy-to-understand recommendations that individuals and institutions may apply to better manage their email archive, highlights the complexity of email preservation.  It also sends a clear message that it is something that everyone can perform.’

      The British Library is among the agencies currently working on new strategies to preserve email.  Maureen Pennock of the British Library welcomed in particular the two short case studies which are included in the report. ‘The report includes case studies from the Bodleian Library and the Medical Research Council which are really useful in making sense of the practical problems which we face, and how to resolve them in practice not just theory.  They show what can be achieved and underline just how useful the core email standards are.’

      Neil Beagrie of Charles Beagrie Ltd, managing editor and principal investigator of the Technology Watch Series highlighted the plans for more reports in the series in the near future.  ‘Preserving Email is the first of five planned publications from leading experts in the new DPC Technology Watch Series.  The format of the new reports has had a major redesign, and ISSN and DOI identifiers have been added.  We hope these features will enhance the use, citation and impact of the reports. Further reports on Preservation of Moving Picture and Sound, Intellectual Property Rights for Digital Preservation, Digital Forensics and Preservation, and Preservation Trust and Continuing Access for e-Journals will be released later in 2012. The DPC and Charles Beagrie hope the new series will be a significant contribution to encouraging digital preservation and best practice worldwide.’

      Richard Ovenden, Deputy Director of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University and Chair of the DPC welcomed the report.  ‘This is the tenth anniversary of the Coalition, which was launched in the House of Commons in February 2002.  One of the ways we are marking this year is by releasing a new set of reports to update and extend the advice we offer.  The Technology Watch Reports are a popular and lasting help to anyone interesting in ensuring that their digital memory available in the long term, and we work hard to ensure they are accessible as well as authoritative.  This new report of Preserving Email will be particularly relevant to a wide readership so it’s a great way to kick off our tenth anniversary year.’

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