Nikos Voyatzis, photo by Leonidas Papadopoulos

I can clearly recall, that , year 2000 and on, while being a librarianship student, I was witnessing all around me the great promise of digitization as a practice that would ensure permanence for libraries and archives. As a trainee in the Athens School of Fine arts Library, researching their preservation and conservation efforts, I was constantly facing the belief that digitization would ensure heritage stored in archives and libraries and safeguard it towards the future, in a way, overcoming traditional dangers such as fire, flood, prolonged use, via the power of a new kind of materiality, the one of the so called Digital born or digitized.

20 years later, almost, I found myself, working as a librarian of a net art classic. I will not refer to the work here, as I do not believe its important for now to elaborate on the artist, the work etc.

The only thing that is important is that I was hired with a super low fee, almost making it not worth to deal with, to contribute in the preservation of an artwork, which has been designed in the mid 90s as an online piece but really developed further in a series of performances, poems, offline events, and mainly, based on a user generated content textual archive, a database of user contribution that is still ongoing, and stands really out within networked cultures, as a sensitive treasure.

I was fixing mistakes in the code, creating sets of instructions which never got finished, recreating and migrating formats from lets say flash to mp4 etc.

a book from the library of the Athens school of fine arts.
capture: a damaged book waiting to be digitised, photo credit the author

What I want to point out in this text is the very idea of archiving as  a radical redesign, for the 21st century user generated content archives. The best example drawn from that collaboration was when I was asked by the artist to recreate a page of the work, which was lost, and which I had never seen in my life before! What did I do? I used the wayback machine, tried to restore any content I would found, reclaimed the memories of the artist and others who experienced the piece in the past, and of course, used all my imagination in order to redesign something I never seen before.

In other words, documentation, experience and imagination are central when we talk about Archiving in our days. Redesigning the archive is more crucial than designing it, in terms of what an archive can be and what an archive can offer. Digitized or born digital material do not stand in the future, they stand in the now and they can evolve. They need to evolve, otherwise the become empty spaces, ruins of platforms and content, off cultural significance to no one except the experts and authors.