Legendary New York Yankee manager Casey Stengal was known for citing obscure baseball statistics for sportswriters. When the reporters would challenge him, Stengal had an easy answer: “You can look it up.”

Baseball, America’s pastime, thrives on statistics, even more so now that modern analytics have provided new perspectives that deepen fans’ appreciation of the game.

However, “You can look it up,” applies to more than baseball or to sports in general.

Every facet of our lives has records – our education, our health care, or work, our family histories, our finances and, yes, our sports – records that are the evidence of our existence.

They provide a glimpse of the who, what, where and when of our actions. By themselves, those records tell our unique stories. Taken in a collective manner, they present the larger story of our society in whatever way we want to define it.

We may not often think about how our records accumulate.

We may review them even less frequently.

But it is important to know that they exist, and to acknowledge that it is our dual responsibility to create the record to begin with and then to preserve that record so it can be available to us and to future generations.

October is American Archives Month, recognized by various archival institutions across the country. It is a promotional time intended to remind our policymakers, our leaders and ourselves, that records matter.

Increasingly, because of modern technology, the records we make and keep are not committed to paper. Today – and likely for all of our tomorrows – the language of our recordkeeping has changed. Rather than being in a touchable, physical format, they are born digital and they stay digital.

Maybe they are stored in a cloud and retrieved via a search engine. We Google it. We friend it on Facebook. We tweet and retweet about it. The net result is that we leave our digital footprints all over the Internet, yet most of us do not even think about that.

For those in the archiving world, this digital age is an extraordinary challenge. How do we capture the records that matter? Which can be deleted, removed or destroyed? How do we judge which are the records to be kept forever, and where do we store them? How do we maintain their integrity? How do we make them accessible when needed?

And once we answer those questions, we ask the equally difficult questions: How much is this going to cost? How do we pay for it?

Yes, in today’s world, we have a far greater capacity to create and store records, and can do so at a speed and level of convenience undreamt of a generation ago. But with that ability comes additional responsibilities and challenges.

American Archives Month is intended to share all of that with a broader public. We do not expect to have the questions answered. In truth, our answers today will likely seem quaint and outdated five years from now, when further advances in technology drive the pace of change and accomplishment to even greater speeds.

Or, to put it in a way that many of us may recall, home movie films that our parents made might have eventually been transferred to VHS or Beta videotape, and then might have been copied again to a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, and recently were transferred to our computer, and then downloaded to a smartphone – all within the last 20 years.

That sequence underscores the idea that keeping something even as personal as a home movie as a record is important, and vital to our personal and social histories.

As part of American Archives Month, we point that out, and offer a reminder of why archives matter, so that when today’s Casey Stengal says, “You can look it up,” we know where to go.

David Cheever has served as the Maine State archivist since 2007. Prior to his current post, he worked in a variety of media positions, as newspaper reporter, editor and columnist, and in radio and television news and production. He also served Gov. Joseph E. Brennan as press secretary and was information liaison for Attorney General James E. Tierney. Upon graduating from Colby College, he was an English teacher in Bangor, and, later, in Augusta and Waterville. Visit the Maine State Archives online at www.maine. gov/sos/arc for more information about the Archives, as well as its extended hours, public tours and other events to mark American Archives Month this October.


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