Value in preserving our recorded history

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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SCOTLAND has one of the richest archive collections in the world. Our business archives span four centuries, with over 6,000 sets of records. Our family history-related records are worth £100 million a year in ancestral tourism income.

Institutions from the National Records of Scotland to local archives services hold millions of pieces of information that tell the story of Scotland and its people, from warrior kings to school dinner ladies.

The digital revolution of the last two decades presents Scotland with a unique opportunity. As archives are dusted down from shelves and captured online, we have the chance to build a digital legacy that will enrich generations to come.

As William Kilbride, executive director of the Digital Preservation Coalition, said recently: “Data is the new oil. It is the emerging infrastructure for industry, science, government, law, health, the creative industries and our personal life. But it is fragile”.

Everyone with an interest in protecting Scotland’s growing digital archives, and crucially, having them accessible over time, needs to work together to get the technology right and secure sufficient investment to nurture these important national assets.

This week, the Scottish Council on Archives is holding an exhibition and reception in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the challenges, and opportunities, that lie ahead.

There are many items on show. A collection of heartbreaking wills written by young men, killed in action during the First World War sit side by side with Mary Queen of Scots’ earliest surviving letter, written when she was only eight.

The engineering drawings for the first Forth Bridge, opened in 1890, are a timely reminder of Scotland’s great engineering heritage and hopefully one day they will be joined by the drawings for the new bridge, currently under construction.

It is incumbent on us, as Scotland’s first digital generation, to preserve our priceless archives for generations to come. By doing so, we will stitch together the fabric of our nation.

• Dr Irene O’Brien is chair of the Scottish Council on Archives See for news of an important event concerning Scotland’s digital archives on 29 January, 2014.