Tons of old US court records to be shredded, to scholars’ dismay
CHICAGO - Wrestling with the challenges of federal court documents in the digital age, US officials are destroying millions of paper records to save storage costs - and raising the ire of some historians and others who rely on the files.
The US National Archives and Records Administration says at least 10 million bankruptcy case files and several million district court files from 1970 through 1995 will be shredded, pounded to pulp, and recycled. Files designated as historically valuable will be kept in storage.
Federal archivists spent years consulting legal scholars and historians about which files to purge after realizing that sorting and digitizing just the bankruptcy cases would cost tens of millions of dollars. Docket sheets that list basic information such as names of defendants and plaintiffs will be saved from each case.
Such reassurances have not allayed concerns.
“Something really important will be lost here,’’ said Theodore Eisenberg, a Cornell Law School professor. “We would lose any ability to assess trends over time. This is not just a matter of history, it is a matter of influencing basic policy today.’’
Marvin Kabakoff, a senior analyst with the archives administration, said yesterday that merely sorting through the millions of papers would be a gargantuan, labor-intensive task.
“We tried to be very careful about what we are destroying,’’ he said.