The archive is a very old thing. The records of governments, merchants, and churches are among our most ancient examples of writing, and the word itself traces back to the Greek archons, administrators whose homes held collections of official documents.

A little astonishingly, the archive is also still entangled with our modern lives. Digitization has opened academic archives to use and enjoyment by amateurs and professionals around the world. Government records have lumbered onto the internet, and our personal data collections are swelling by the month. We have book scanners, but no modern system of intellectual property law to address our new archives; we have near-universal web search, but no way of unbreaking links to sites that wither away. The internet forces us to sort out our values on the fly, deciding what to save now for a future we can’t quite imagine.

Our fifth issue of Contents explores the archive in formal and informal senses, with dispatches from library science and online publishing, how-tos on content strategy and governance, and features on both long-term digital preservation work and frantic rescue efforts.

We’re sponsored, this issue, by the generous souls at Tiny Letter, a dead-simple newsletter service with no fussy templates or settings. They make a great product and they let us pay our writers and keep the server running, and we love them.

Weird archives

We’re also doing a few things differently than usual. The archives on our screens and in our brightly lit offices can be useful and frustrating in equal measure, but there are also archives with a more ambiguous quality: the incomplete, the incomprehensible, the lost. Our much-cherished guest designer, Rob Weychert, has cooked up some surprises in recognition of this abiding strangeness. In addition to the articles and interviews that make up the archive by daylight, keep an eye out for an occasional shift in perspective to the weirder and less expected pleasures of the archive at night.

Calling all readers

This week, we launch the issue a hair early to give you a head start on a new feature, the Contents Book Club. Each issue in 2013, we’ll select a new book to read, and we come in search of the formerly un-book-clubbable. There are no deadlines. There are no meetings. No back-of-the-book “reading guides” will appear. Join us?

And in case you missed it, we’ve launched a Tumblr, where you’ll find behind-the-scenes posts and outtakes.

— Erin & Krista