It’s not easy being a consumer in an age when the technology changes every 15 minutes. Imagine what it’s like to be administrator of a state archives and records management program, whose holdings can determine fates and legal outcomes.

What’s it like to run an archives in this era of technology?

It’s getting more and more difficult for an archivist. For a long time people have thought about computers as controlling data and information and what they’re really managing now are records. They’re taking paper records that they created in the past and they’re creating them online or they’re collecting the information online. … And now they’re creating these records-keeping systems and are looking to convert the older records that they’ve been preserving in paper and on microfilm and including them in their new systems. And no one is quite sure how to handle it securely, safely, and manage them so that records that can be disposed of in a certain period of time can be disposed of and records that need to be kept can be kept in an electronic record keeping system.

You’ve seen things come and go. I remember that at one time at least, you had some paper records—key punch cards—that you couldn’t access the information on, because you didn’t have the units to play them on.

Well, we had key punch cards and the information that was kept in those systems was eventually lost because the machines that read those were no longer available. When we started to record public meetings on a variety of analog machines, either tapes or Dictaphone belts, and even now with CDs and DVDs—the analog records, they needed to have specific machines to run them and when those specific machines to run them, and when those specific machines no longer exist, then you can’t play those back anymore. We have Dictaphone belts going back to the 1960s of the legislative sessions that we have one machine that you can actually listen to those on. Either you have to pay to get that information converted in order to preserve it—at a pretty high expense now—or you just have to let it go. And the same is true of the modern electronic records. So much of it depends on hardware and software that you have to start planning ahead if you want to really keep these, so that you can migrate the information that [is] on your current systems to newer systems, and that kind of planning isn’t being done yet. They’re taking care of business today, and they’re not looking forward to how they’re going to keep this information and access it in the future.

Isn’t there a limit to how long you can wait? Don’t Dictabelts become brittle?

Dictabelts become brittle. You need to get them transferred. Even analog tapes—magnetic tapes, the tape players and tape recorders that we grew up with—even that tape deteriorates. It’s made out of plastic, and it has a metal emulsion on it that creates a magnetic field and that magnetism can migrate through the tape, and it can scramble the information if it’s stored for too long. So there is a time limit on how long you can actually keep this information and access it.

And you haven’t had the budget to make the transfers?

We haven’t had the budget to make the transfers.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...