Looking to the Future by Preserving the Past

There is no more exciting day on a university campus than commencement. This past May 11 and the graduation of the class of 2013 was no exception. The celebration of hard work and growth, and the anticipation of God’s future plans for each graduate filled the air, as it does every year.

But during this recent graduation, I was also in the midst of helping an alumnus look back, researching his own grandparents’ attendance at Eugene Bible University (EBU) and Spokane University (SU), two predecessors of NCU. The Rev. Dr. John Powell, class of 1972, once stood on the cusp of “life after college” and all its potential just as our recent graduates did a few weeks ago. His research reminds us of the importance of being connected with our past even as we look to the future. Family history is important to Dr. Powell. His grandparents, and parents (class of 1951), some uncles, sisters, etc.—12 ministers or missionaries over 4 generations–attended EBU, SU, or Northwest Christian College. His connection with his alma mater is important to him, too.  In our time together he asked about the school and how it’s doing. Because of his past connections, he cares about NCU’s future.

We are very fortunate that NCU posseses a significant archive of the school’s history. Folks like Dr. Powell can find photos and records from their past. From our past.  One often thinks of an archives collection as all about the past, and on a surface level perhaps that is true. But really, the university archives are about the future. Some person or persons in the first decade of the 1900s looked to the future and determined that then-current information about EBU and SU was worth preserving for that future. Dr. Powell and others have received the benefit of that future-thinking archival work.  Today we still make decisions about what current information is worth preserving. As we make those decisions it is the future we are looking to, not the past. “What will future generations want to know about their own past connections with our school?” As we implement preservation procedures and policies, we do so with a clear focus on preserving our past FOR the future.

Ironically in today’s Internet infused age such future thinking preservation of our past is even more important. It is easy to assume that today’s information created in an online environment will naturally be available always wherever we have WiFi. But where does that history go when the web page gets updated, replaced, or deleted? Google and Bing can’t reach our password protected campus software system to magically generate lists of past students. And how long will that information even exist in its current file format before it needs to be updated to work with tomorrow’s new system? The challenges and need for continued archival work remain strong even in the digital age.

We continue to look to the future as we actively work to preserve our past. We know there are future Dr. Powells who will be walking across that stage in years to come. They will want a connection to their past–our present–sometime in the future. We work for them.

For more information about NCU’s archives or about how you can help us preserve our heritage for the future please contact library director Steve Silver at ssilver@nwcu.edu or 541-684-7237.

Steve Silver, library director

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