Personal Archiving

An Important Lesson to Be Learned From The Internet Archive Fire

In the early morning hours of November 6, a fire broke out in the scanning center of the Internet Archive’s headquarters in San Francisco (click here to view photos).  Fortunately, it was contained fairly quickly, and losses were mostly confined to specialized hardware, estimated to have been worth about $600,000.  Nobody was injured, and there was no loss of stored data.  The main headquarters building was not damaged, but a residence on the other side of the scanning center was extensively damaged, and the occupants were temporarily relocated.

The Internet ArchiveThe cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is believed to have resulted from a spark in one of the scanners. The scanning center, located in a small building attached to the main headquarters, is a near total loss. Some physical materials awaiting scanning were lost, but many of them have already been replaced. The Internet Archive is soliciting donations to help the reconstruction effort, and an outpouring of support has already been received.

Those are the raw facts from this unfortunate event.  It could have been much worse.  A significant lesson to be learned is that our digital data are fragile and perishable.  Brewster Kahle, Founder of the Internet Archive and author of the Foreword to my new book, Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, said in posting on the Internet Archive’s blog.


All in all we were lucky, and we are very thankful for the support from everyone. While rattling to have a fire, and expensive, we have had little significant operational disruption. We are looking for lessons to learn and will apply them. Let’s keep making copies–a key towards preservation and access.

Preservation is one of the most important reasons to undertake an archiving project.  In fact, it was just that consideration that motivated me to begin a personal scanning effort, which in turn led to the idea for the book.  I’ll tell you more in a following blog post.

About Donald T. Hawkins

Donald T. Hawkins is a writer, blogger, speaker, and long-time information industry observer whose distinguished career included 15 years in the AT&T Bell Laboratories Library Network, where he was honored for his pioneering contributions in end-user searching. He is the author of hundreds of articles and a two-time winner of the UMI/Data Courier Award for excellence in writing. He is the editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage.

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