The fact that significant portions of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library have been digitized is in itself a remarkable achievement. The process, which involved scanning and tagging hundreds of thousands of original documents from JFK's three years as President of the United States was a massive effort. Tagging the documents so that they could be indexed and found by researchers and anyone else who wants to see them was also a massive task.
The result is a vast collection of records available to anyone who wants to visit the library's website. As remarkable as this exhibit is from a historical and research standpoint, it also illustrates how advanced records management and preservation can work to both make important records available to the people who need them and preserve records so that their information survives even if something happens to the originals.
The original purpose behind the digitizing of the JFK Library records was to make them more available so that people wouldn't have to travel to Boston to study them. The means had to be found to preserve them as digital images and to make them available online so that they could be found again (it doesn't help to search through hundreds of thousands of unindexed image files to find something). In addition, because of the strong interest in the Kennedy administration 50 years after JFK's inauguration, the library had to consider the fact that the archives would receive millions of hits annually-and for some special exhibits, millions more in a few days.
While performing such a massive task was beyond the expertise and means of the Library (which is, after all, a non-profit organization), it wasn't beyond the means of the leaders of the technology industry. EMC, which is based near the library, stepped up to the plate with a state of the art, high-speed storage network. Iron Mountain, which specializes in secure storage facilities, provided the secure facilities for the Kennedy Library, AT&T provided the high-speed network necessary to support the anticipated traffic, and Raytheon, known for its effective management of huge defense projects, provided the project management for the library.
The result was that some of the industry's best and brightest corporations donated their products, their expertise and their employees' time to make this happen. The good news is that the JFK Library ended up with a high-speed facility for research and a secure environment that can protect the information from nearly any foreseeable peril. The history of the Kennedy years is safe.
The important lesson for the enterprise is that such records management is not only possible, it can be practicable. If your company has a long history of analog records, it is possible to save those so that they can be referenced in the future, and to protect them against loss at the same time. We know it can be done, and we know who can do it. But of course you still need to decide whether your company's history is worth preserving.