In the past, letters were invariably tangible things and the biggest challenge for archivists and historians was deciphering the handwriting. But today few people pick up a pen and paper.
Alexander Turnbull's curator of manuscripts, David Colquhoun, describes a typical contemporary acquisition: "We get the papers of a writer. The papers are just fine, but there's a shoebox of disks as well."
Before he can decide whether disks are worth keeping, other staff have to figure out whether they can even open the files. "Some of them are corrupted," Buzenberg says. "Some of them are in formats that we just can't read . . . The complexity has just been astounding."
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