Other Writing

Letter to the Editor

Yale Alumni Magazine on Digital Archiving

A letter to the editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine about the importance of digital archiving. Here’s the published version.

Dear Editor,

I enjoyed reading the article on The Digital Dark Ages in the May/June 2020 issue of the YAM. It highlighted how much of the information we’re creating is slipping through the archivists’ fingers. To take this one step further, I wanted to highlight the current digital archiving problem at Yale. 

I’m on the Alumni Board of The Yale Record, The Nation’s Oldest Humor Magazine. Since we were founded in 1872, the magazine has been moving away from print into a more digital form. I’d imagine most Yale Magazines are doing the same.

The Yale Record is currently operating in a hybrid form, at least it was before the coronavirus, publishing a print issue each month and putting out online pieces more frequently. At the end of each year, the print issues are bundled up and sent to Manuscripts & Archives where they are nicely bound and saved forever. But as far as I know, there’s no Digital Manuscripts & Archives. I mean there is, but that’s just for digitizing print materials and putting them online. There’s no way to go to M&A and look for what the Yale Record’s website looked like over time. In order to do that, I need to go to the Internet Archive website at archive.org which is not affiliated with Yale. There I can search for yalerecord.com and see that we started that site in 2004. We had an online presence before then but there’s no way I’m going to remember where it was. 

Much of the digital history of The Yale Record and other Yale Publications has already been lost. In 1999 The Yale Record pulled one of the first digital April Fools pranks. We realized that we could register the misspellings of the New York Times website (e.g., nytines.com, nytomes.com, etc.) and create our own parody of The Times. It was pretty funny and looked authentic. It would have languished in the internet dustbin but I’ve been holding onto it at www.schlaff.com/nytimes until Yale provides a place for it, along with its other digital brethren. Creating digital Manuscripts & Archives isn’t that hard, we just need to realize that it’s important and doesn’t exist today.

Robert Schlaff SY ’99