Preserving knowledge in the face of extinction

I try not to be too catastrophic about the impending climate collapse, but it’s hard. Ecosystems are degrading, large parts of the planet are becoming uninhabitable, and societies are fraying.

Yet here I am trying to preserve research, data, and information for posterity like somebody is going to find a report about automated vehicles from 1997 a 100 years from now and find it useful. I often have these moments asking, “what’s the point?” Why are we trying to save all this stuff while we continue to kill our planet?

It’s bleak.

And I often feel like I can’t vocalize these thoughts because they seem dramatic and I’ve found that acknowledging this planet’s existential crisis is kind of a downer. “Look at this cool digitization project we’re doing!” “Neat, but you know we might all die in a few decades…”

And I sincerely hope it’s not that bad – but I do think we (library/information/knowledge/data workers) should collectively take a moment to reflect on what is means to be doing this memory work in this moment, and how we’re avoiding the issues. Also how we’re contributing to it!

Thankfully Mél Hogan and Sarah T. Roberts just published an essay that summarizes and names so much of this madness right now. Go read “Archiving for Extinction.”

Libraries and archives have long been a part of settler colonialism, and our practices are still largely rooted in that framework. Hogan and Roberts extend this to the techno fever dream of colonizing space and the thought that putting data on the moon is laudable. (It also reminds me of some of the themes in Fred Scharmen’s Space Forces.) Unfortunately this hubris is well funded and takes up an outsized space in the discourse. I also think it’s hard to point out how stupid this all is since there’s a real pressure to be innovative and forward thinking.

But how does a whole field whose mission has been preservation for the long term confront a real threat that maybe we don’t have a longterm future. Maybe it’s ok to not save everything. Maybe it’s fine if some data and bytes are lost.






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