While it’s true that the benefits of digital archiving may be great, the implementation of such an archive certainly doesn’t come easily. The main issue is the problem of curation, or put simply, choice. While the Instagram model allows us to choose the posts we wish to archive, it doesn’t allow us to sort these posts into collections. As the ‘archive’, in this case, also isn’t visible to anyone but the primary user, the curation of the archive isn’t a necessity in the same way as, say, a physical library. If we were to make our digital archives open and accessible, to serve the functions we want it to, surely we would need to organise our collections. However, by picking and choosing which sections of content to archive, and which to simply discard, are we not assigning value ourselves? Value judgements like these are incredibly subjective, as they would change from curator to curator, and can’t be programmed reliably into an algorithm. If, at some point in the future, the material we discarded may be needed for reasons we can’t possibly predict, what authority do we have to discard it at all?
But surely we can’t archive everything. The sheer amount of new material every minute makes that virtually impossible. That is also not accounting for sensitive material which may not be able to be shared freely, for various reasons. Curation must be part of the process. The question becomes, then, how can we limit the negative effects of the value judgements we make? One solution could be to create more committee-style groups of curators, who have differing opinions or backgrounds, and who may be able to balance the weight of authority between them. If each group had varied interests amongst its members, compromises would need to be made, and perhaps these would shift the balance of power away from the individual.
But how likely is it that these groups of people could be formed? Almost every business will need an archive for one reason or another – whether that is to simply organise and collate materials for internal staff and use, or to create an interactive, public-facing system similar to those in use by museums and libraries. However, where a museum or library is able to acquire funding to build these systems, it’s not always the case for smaller businesses. The costs of hiring outside curation experts is a major obstacle to a company’s ability to create and sustain an archive of any size.