Preserving Wet Blogs
For Baptists, especially Southern Baptists, it’s been a busy year. If you don’t believe me, one Baptist blogger has been keeping a log.
Ironically, it was about this time last year that I struck up a conversation with another Southern Baptist archivist about Baptist blogs while attending the ALABI meeting in Richmond. I mentioned that the whole idea of Baptist blogs and how to preserve them really troubled me, and I asked if his organization was doing anything in the way of preserving blogs. He confessed they were not, and he mentioned that he had not really thought much about it. I told him that our strategy was not the best, but that we had been trying to select, print, and file representative posts from a various important Baptist blogs. Admittedly, the selection criteria is highly subjective, and the original context of the item is destroyed, but at least something of the conversation is preserved.
At that time, I mentioned that several Baptist blogs were creating quite a stir within the denomination. One blogger in particular had criticized new policies that affected the appointment of international missionaries, and bloggers on all sides of the issues blogged, commented, and trackbacked their opinions for weeks on end. Seemingly, the whole denomination was at odds. Some bloggers accused denominational officials of nepotism and favoritism. Other bloggers clashed over theological and social issues, such as the use of alcohol by Christians and the relationship between baptism and church membership. Perhaps most importantly, the outcome of the impending SBC presidential election looked like it could be affected by bloggers. We parted that day, agreeing that we should talk about the problem later. We both got busy with our lives and jobs, and we have yet to finish the conversation.
Less than a month later, the SBC Annual Meeting was over, the dark horse presidential candidate that many of the bloggers endorsed came away with the victory, and newspapers such as the Washington Post and Raleigh’s News and Observer took notice. In less than a year, a group of loosely organized individuals helped shape the face of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States–and they used one of the most volatile mediums ever created to do it.
Here’s the rub; for many Baptists, blogs have replaced denominational newspapers as the default source for theological and denominational information and engagement. Those 19th century Baptist papers, however, seem to be much easier to preserve because of their fixed formats. Will 22nd century Baptists be able to read the “newspapers” of 21st century Baptists? Perhaps, but are we willing to chance it?
For the past year, I have maintained my current preservation strategy for such blogs, but I have continually been thinking and reading about the problem of archiving blogs. It’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, and that’s probably why I’m writing right now.
My present print-and-file strategy works…sort of. It does what Gerald Ham recommended in that it provides an accurate record of human experience–the experience of those humans called Baptists, but it does it at the high cost of losing the context. I can’t help but think that there has to be a better way to accurately preserve these “wet” blogs in an electronic format that does due diligence to their context before their content evaporates.
Over the next few posts, I want to explore my ideas on how best to ensure that the next generation of Baptists (or any other group for that matter) have the benefit of being able to read about the issues that are relevant to groups in our day. Some solutions have been offered for this problem, and I will try to assess as many of those as possible. And I promise, I plan to offer real suggestions for a way forward before this series is over. If there’s one thing that irritates me, it’s reading articles that amount to nothing more than glorified hand wringing. That’s the last thing that I want this series to be, and hopefully, before it’s finished, some suggestions, and possibly even some code, will emerge here.