In a recent BlueNC thread, "Don't Try to Email the State about Email", Franklin Freeman, the public official in charge of electronic mail retention was (justifiably) criticized for lacking appropriate domain knowledge. Specifically, Freeman stated that he "[doesn't] even know how to cut a computer on".
Now, while this response brought ridicule from the denizens of BlueNC, and while it is true that cutting a computer on is a skill that can successfully be taught to a chimpanzee, and that one could find a less unqualified person to handle the North Carolina state government's email retention policy by throwing a rock in the vicinity of a local university, I would urge that we set the bar a bit higher than that.
The reason is because, for public records and other important materials, digital archiving is not as simple or as easy a problem space as it may seem.
The problems are threefold: media longevity, media obsolescence, and data format obsolescence. There is a fourth problem, subtly related to the last, which we might crudely describe as "meta-data obsolescence".
I'll explore each of these challenges in turn.