SHARE Archive: The Effort to Catalog 60 Years of Mainframe Knowledge

With contributions from Anne Caluori

From the Vatican Secret Archives to the Library of Alexandria to Hangar 51, history is littered with examples of legendary archives. Now, SHARE is on a mission to build its own.

Whitepapers. Newsletters. Committee reports. Board minutes. Event proceedings. The depth and variety of material created by SHARE members over the past 60-plus years is staggering. Today, SHARE past president Anne Caluori is collecting and cataloging as much of this material as possible to preserve it for present and future mainframe professionals.

The official SHARE Archive includes a physical repository at SHARE’s Chicago headquarters and a 15-GB digital archive at Marist College.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

The initiative was a long time coming.

“The first SHARE meeting was in 1955, and ever since then people have said that we should really be archiving all of these publications and documents that we create,” she said. “I could see value in having an organized archive that's accessible to people, and I knew there was an outside chance of getting almost 100 percent of what had been produced.”

SHARE was first started to meet three needs for mainframe professionals: education, support and networking.

Since the very start, members have been writing technical papers, exchanging correspondence, or delivering speeches about the emerging technology. The ability to regularly exchange ideas with other SHARE members also meant the community could band together and directly influence the ways that vendors built mainframes to meet business needs.

There’s a lot to be learned from that history, Caluori explained. Easy access to those early documents could be gold to today’s mainframe professionals, providing important context for core mainframe concepts. It could help bridge the knowledge gap between experienced mainframe veterans and today’s novice programmers.

“A lot of the computing in those early days was really one-of-a-kind and almost mystical,” Caluori said. “They were creating the building blocks of concepts that we still rely on today.”

Building the Archive

The mission began three years ago, with Caluori digging through any documents she could find in several SHARE warehouses. Those facilities store extra copies of documents that were printed over the years. For example, if 2,000 whitepapers were printed for a SHARE event and 1,900 were handed out, the remaining 100 copies would be sent to a warehouse. Caluori started there.

“My rule was that for any document I could find, I wanted three copies,” she said. “Two would be saved as a hard copy and one would be digitized as a PDF.”

Previous digitization efforts complicated things. In some cases, paper documents were saved in an electronic format, and the original document was destroyed. Many of those electronic formats fell out of vogue, or were only readable on a proprietary software that no longer exists today. As a result, some documents remain effectively inaccessible without separate recovery efforts.

That’s why Caluori strongly prefers to get a hold of paper documents, and why she plans to keep hard copies saved even as SHARE gradually digitizes those records. If for some reason PDF falls out of favor, there are backup paper copies to create new digital versions.

Progress is steady: she’s collected everything from meeting proceedings, conference interactions, and board minutes, to video, microfilm and task force reports. She’s also developed a taxonomy to make the archive searchable, possibly online at some point in the future.

But, she’s still on the hunt for more material. Her message to current and former SHARE members? Don’t send your old reports to the shredder.

“If you’re moving offices, or retiring, or just cleaning out your desk, don’t throw away those old documents,” Caluori said. “Ship them to me. We’ll reimburse you for the shipping and we’ll decide if it’s something we should to keep for the archive.”

The SHARE Archive is a work in progress, and you can help build it. If you have a lead on material you think should be in the archive, don’t hesitate to reach out to Anne Caluori at archive@share.org

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