26 February 1997
Over a decade preserving Australia's scientific heritageFor more than ten years the Australian Science Archives Project (ASAP) has been working to protect Australia's rich scientific and technological heritage. From modest beginnings within the History and Philosophy of Science Department at the University of Melbourne, ASAP has grown into an active and innovative organisation, attracting international attention with its archival processing techniques.
From the notebooks of Nobel prize-winning scientist Macfarlane Burnet, to the kilometres of records generated by a modern power station, ASAP has handled collections varying widely in size, condition and complexity. Using its own software and a methodology honed by many years work in the field, ASAP is able to gain rapid, fine-grained control over such records. A problematic backlog is transformed into a valuable resource.
'Archives are a reservoir of memory', explains ASAP's Director, Gavan McCarthy, 'they provide evidence of human activity'. Such evidence is vital, not only to historians of science, but to science and technology-related institutions and industries. 'To deal effectively with such concerns as intellectual property, scientific fraud, economic accountability, health and safety liability, and strategic planning, adequate recordkeeping practices are essential.'
McCarthy is particularly concerned by the impact of electronic methods of communication on the documentation of science. Joseph Banks's correspondence can still be consulted by scholars, two hundred years after it was written. Will today's email by accessible in ten years? Twenty years? McCarthy is a member of an international grouping of science archivists working to develop policies and procedures to forestall such disasters. 'There is a real danger that we could lose a substantial chunk of our scientific memory', he warns.
ASAP will continue to play a leading role in preserving Australia's scientific heritage. Recently awarded an ARC Collaborative Research Grant, the first to an archival organisation in Australia, ASAP is already working on the next generation of archival tools and processes.
Prepared by Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
for publication on ASAPWeb. Last modified 25 June 1997.