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Dr. David Kirsch

Professor David Kirsch speaking at the Library of Congress.
Credit: B. Wheeler

April 21, 2009 -- "There are more businesses created each year than there are marriages, but even with high divorce rates the business failure rates are higher," said David Kirsch, Associate Professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland during a presentation at the Library of Congress on March 17, 2009.

Kirsch leads the Birth of the Dot Com Era, which is supported by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. He spoke about the project at the Library of Congress on March 17, 2009.

Kirsch noted that understanding why some businesses fail and others succeed is dependent largely upon the examination of business records. The records provide facts, methods and organizational structures that distinguish between success and failure. Such records are usually private but after time passes, competitive and confidential information typically become moot. After restrictions are lifted, business records are valuable sources for students, educators and scholars.

In a digital environment, records that are not managed will not survive merely by accident—as many records in the past have. When a business fails their records are often simply thrown away. Kirsch observed that companies are often motivated to destroy records because they are seen as a legal liability. This creates a situation where only a very limited number of records from contemporary companies are preserved for future researchers.

Kirsch outlined four possible approaches to creating an environment where companies have incentives to preserve their records. First, appeal to the self-interest of the business by demonstrating the benefits of keeping a historical record. Second, create incentives at the Federal level for businesses to preserve records by reducing the risk of preservation.

The third approach is to create a legal provision that allows libraries and archives to collect and preserve the abandoned records of failed businesses. The fourth is to test the above approaches in another country like Canada or Finland where the public interest in business records are currently supported in the form of federally run archives.

Watch the webcast of this presentation.