The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives is proud to receive a $63,890 grant to support the project, Mailbag: A Stable Package for Email in Multiple Formats. The grant is funded through the University of Illinois program, Email Archives: Building Capacity and Community. The grant supports UAlbany archivists and a multi-institutional team of digital archivists, computer scientists, and preservation experts to develop software and a specification to preserve email.
Archivists from around the world may use Mailbag to preserve the rich and complex email used in day to day personal communication in the contemporary organization. Mailbag will help ensure that future generations of academic researchers, genealogists, community historians, data scientists, and the general public have access to this invaluable documentation.
Of all digital formats, email is particularly challenging to preserve because there is no single format that is effective for long term preservation. The rise of email marketing technologies like Mailchimp and Constant Contact has further increased the cost and complexity of preserving email. Email can now be interactive, and often features content like images or graphics that are hosted outside email on external servers. External content and interactive features rarely get captured in current email preservation techniques.
The Mailbag project aims to make it feasible for archivists to preserve email in multiple formats, ensuring email is preserved as data, as documents, and as web archives. The project will create a Mailbag specification, based on the widely-used BagIt specification that defines a structured and computer-actionable package to preserve these multiple formats in a sustainable way.
The project will also create open source software to easily create and manage Mailbags at scale. For example, a Mailbag package would be a specific type of “bag,” and could contain email export formats for data mining, PDF files for easy viewing, and web archives that can later be emulated to preserve the original, and potentially interactive, experience of viewing email. This approach of preserving multiple email formats in a single package will ensure today’s email is captured more fully and thereby will be more meaningful to future users, from historians to data scientists.
The Mailbag project will fund two graduate students from the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity. Email Archives: Building Capacity and Community program is a re-grant program from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation that seeks to build email archiving capacity in archives, libraries, and museums.