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The challenge of preservation

The challenge of preservation
Carol Radford-Grant (pictured) was appointed Saskatchewan’s new provincial archivist on Oct. 7, 2021. -- Photo courtesy of the Government of Saskatchewan.

Carol Radford-Grant spends her days up to her elbows in historical documents, but it’s the records created today that have her most concerned.

As Saskatchewan’s new provincial archivist, Radford-Grant oversees a team of people handling diverse items from early maps, to diaries and journals written by some of the province’s most influential historical figures. Preserving and digitizing those records is not an easy process, but it’s a lot simpler for archivists than storing electronic blogs, articles and social media posts made today.

“Electronic records are challenging,” Radford-Grant said in an interview shortly after the provincial government formally announced her appointment. “We may be able to read the diary of Louis Riel from 1885—created over 130 years ago—but we question whether we’re going to be able to read the electronic diaries and blogs created today in 2151.

“Preservation of material that is only every created in electronic form is a huge challenge,” she added. “It has to be migrated into some software and hardware that can be maintained over time and can still maintain the integrity of that record. I think that’s the largest challenge to the archives profession.”

Finding ways to keep track of the ever-expanding list of electronic material is just one of the areas Radford-Grant will oversee. As provincial archivist, she’s responsible for providing leadership and direction to all areas of the archives—something she relishes after spending nearly 10 years filling a similar role with the City of Toronto.

“There’s something exciting about moving to a new province, and all the great things I’m going to be able to learn while I’m here,” she said.

“I really enjoyed working in the City of Toronto. I was the archivist for nine-and-a-half years, and the team there was strong. They were doing really exciting things, and really had great accomplishments in terms of expansion of social media, but coming to Saskatchewan gives me the opportunity to work at the provincial level.”

The Saskatchewan archives has worked hard to digitize as much content as possible. Radford-Grant said it provides a great opportunity to researchers—both professional and amateur—who otherwise would have to travel hours or days to get information they can now find in minutes.

However, there’s still something special about seeing an old hand-drawn map or 80 year old newspaper clipping in person, and that’s one of the things Radford-Grant loves about the profession.

“There is something about seeing the original that can’t be replicated in the digital form,” she said. “If you have a map from the early 1900s that’s the size of your livingroom wall, you’ll never experience that record the same way as you will through a computer screen.”

Before joining the City of Toronto, Radford-Grant specialized in regulatory records, working in various positions with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the Archives of Ontario, and the Ontario College of Teachers.

While she loved the work, Radford-Grant said she’s eager to dive into a new opportunity in Saskatchewan.

“I’ve worked in archives for a long time, and I think that it’s contributed immensely to our communities,” she said.

“There are many people who come to us to research things that may be helping them in terms of some sort of legal need, or maybe there’s an interest, or maybe they’re doing research for school. I really feel it’s a really wonderful space.”