Position Paper 2: The E-Lit Archive

Is preserving electronic literature important? Should libraries and archives be responsible for keeping machines and software that can play older pieces of e-lit? I believe that most definitely they should.

The dawn of the 21st century marks an important transition in time: it is the point where computers are no longer a privilege and a novelty, but an increasingly accessible and necessary part of our daily lives, and it is an accessibility that is endowed with a remarkable creative potential. This development is no more apparent than in the evolution of literature from a static print-based medium, into the dynamic and diverse context of electronic literature.

Frankly, it is the duty of archives to archive material, and I feel that these institutions would be remiss in their roles if they did not adapt to the changing form of literature and make an effort to catalogue and preserve works of e-lit. As someone who has struggled with accessing some of the ELC1 works I know first hand how frustrating it is to be faced with a piece that, despite numerous patches, updates and frustrated attempts to “trick” my computer, will not open or play properly. When taken into consideration that the ELC1 is only three years old, it becomes clear how important it is for libraries and archives to preserve technology that will be able to play older pieces of electronic literature.

It is understandable that as technology advances it would take increasing efforts to catalogue and maintain the machines and software necessary to store and preserve works of electronic literature. However, I think this is a necessary undertaking that could lead to an entirely new institution: the e-lit archive.

It is easy to imagine such an archive: a long, dimly lit series of environmentally controlled rooms with no windows (to ensure optimal viewing of computer screens), the faces of e-lit archive patrons illuminated by the glowing screens of a hundred outdated machines, reverentially typing on keyboards wearing special keyboard-preserving gloves, their behaviour directly transposed from the way we currently handle historical “special collection” texts. The e-lit archive would catalogue and preserve works of electronic literature while simultaneously providing the additional service of expanding e-lit readership.

While e-lit may not be the most popular or widely accessible literary genre, it is still a legitimate literary form, and I believe it is important for libraries and archives to retain not only works of e-lit, but also the technology that can operate and play said pieces. The e-lit genre must be properly archived and preserved, not only for current readers and e-lit enthusiasts, but also for future generations of readers who will look back in intrigue upon the transition from the frozen printed word, into the endless diversity of electronic literature.

– Sophia M.


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