Rescued documentation issues

Al Kossow aek at bitsavers.org
Mon Oct 26 12:41:53 CDT 2009


Philipp Hachtmann wrote:
> c) Documentation for individual applications like a paper mill or the 
> airport information system that don't exist anymore.
> 
> And what about category c documents? Shouldn't they be silently 
> discarded? That would be the "correct" handling as one cannot be sure if 
> parts of the described system are still somewhere in production use. The 
> circumstances under which those docs go their way to collectors' hands 
> are usually of a more or less obscure and inofficial nature...
> 

This is a tough one. What I'm finding is there is very little detailed documentation
that has been archived on how systems were built, along with the applications that
ran them for exactly the reasons you give. The best you find are overviews in
the trade publications of the time.

One example that came up recently as we are working on the content for the
new exhibit was trying to find out exactly what first Univac that went into
non-government (GE Louisville) use was used for. Details turn out to be quite
sketchy because GE management didn't want the competition to know how much
useful work they were getting out of it.

Are historians going to be interested in artifacts to this level of detail?

Which does bring up the point of what ultimately will happen to a personal
collection of such documentation.

The problem, of course, is by the mid-60's the application of computers is
so widespread that you can't possibly hope to save everything to that level
of detail.

As a rule of thumb, I would save documents that describe how the system was
put together, maybe project schedules and progress reports, and only overview
documents when the system was in operation, maybe a few hundred pages at the
most unless it is a VERY large system.

Think about of what use this documentation would be to someone in the future,
historians, people working on simulations, or restorations, for example.








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