Once upon a time, preserving historical material was fairly easy. Everything was handwritten, printed, duplicated or copied. Originals could be catalogued and preserved. Photos, negatives and slides could also be saved and stored. Today, letters and telegrams have been replaced by text messages or e-mails; scrapbooks and photo albums are posted on-line and slides and VHS by DVD. Committee minutes and newsletters are sent electronically and most often deleted after reading. It takes much more intentionality to preserve a church’s records and heritage than it once did.
So, what should churches do? First of all, remember that churches have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve their records. Designate someone, staff or layperson with an interest in heritage and history, to decide what is and is not a priority to preserve. This is an important first step.
Options for preservation should be studied and evaluated. Keeping materials available and searchable with today’s changing technology can be difficult and time-consuming. Digital preservation is wonderful for its accessibility to a larger audience and many libraries and archives are scanning records and posting them on-line. These options will be discussed further next month. Meanwhile, to get an idea of how vast historical on-line resources are, check out the South Carolina Digital Library (www.scmemory.org). Material that once had to be researched in a library now can be studied in the comfort of your home. Shouldn’t churches be keeping pace with their history as well?