At best, not having access to critical documents and data can be incredibly disruptive. Losing records also introduces risks related to compliance, lawsuits and erosion of customer trust — the repercussions of which can cost a lot of time, money or even the business itself. One result that doesn’t immediately come to mind is the loss of valued cultural history.
Our focus on the future means that we often have a tendency to quickly move onto the next thing, which can mean that history gets lost in the shuffle. Even one of the most incredible achievements in human history — space travel — has been plagued by this issue. Were it not for the extraordinary efforts of a few dedicated archivists, photos from the first five Lunar Orbiters would be lost to time.1
The importance of archiving our shared heritage extends beyond spectacular images from outer space. Back on Earth, Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA) is a prime example of an organization taking action to protect the legacy it maintains.
SMHA is a not-for-profit organization based in rural Louisiana. Their mission is to build strong, healthy and prosperous communities, focusing efforts on the low-income families that stand to benefit most from its support.
From establishing the first medical and dental clinic for sugarcane farm workers in the 60s, to providing disaster relief and rebuilding after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, SMHA has acted as an advocate and ally for people in need for nearly 50 years. The organization has also challenged the forces of poverty, racism, sexism and classism at every turn — by waging court battles, influencing policy and taking on lawmakers.
All of these efforts have generated laudable results — SMHA has received more than 60 awards for its work over the years. It also amassed a huge library of historical documents such as letters, case studies, lawsuits and congressional hearing transcripts along the way. These records are vital to SMHA because they represent the narrative fabric of the mission and what it has accomplished. The organization’s work requires a nuanced understanding of the region’s history and these are records critical for developing that in the next generation of leaders.