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ARCHIVES  April 1995, Week 4

ARCHIVES April 1995, Week 4

Subject:

Re: puleeese

From:

Gerry Stacy <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Archives & Archivists <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 26 Apr 1995 09:41:51 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (104 lines)

On Wed, 26 Apr 1995, Michael Saclier wrote:
 
> Gerry puleeese, these are the most profound expressions of truth in our
> subtle craft.  Cast no nasturtiums if you wish to remain within the pale.
>
> Think carefully about the truths underlying these pithy sayings.  If you
> have trouble discerning them, I'm sure there are many on the list who would
> be happy to elucidate.
>
 
I respond:
 
> >
> >      I.         When in doubt, throw it out.
 
What this is in effect saying is, "If I don't understand what it is I
have - if I fail to see its significance, I should throw it away."  This
makes my skin crawl.  I've heard of FAR too many stories where a
researcher - who knows more about the provenance of a collection than the
archivist who processed it - asks the archivist if the collection
contains any "x" and receives a panicked look followed by the question,
"Are those important?"  Archivists' brains are not the storehouse of
human knowledge.  They are not capable of seeing the long-term
significance of EVERYTHING they run across.  It is a tragedy that
Archivists, running around toting out this ill-conceived axiom, are using
this as a reason to throw away materials that may be of significant use to
researchers simply because of their own ignorance.  No, I'm afraid that I
can't subscribe to this axiom.  I would rather say,
 
I.  If I don't understand what it is I have, I will save it until I DO.
At that point, I can decide to throw it out.
 
> >      III.       Garbage is garbage, no matter how long you keep it.
 
Please define what garbage is.  This is a subjective judgement.  I know
LOTS of urban archaeologists who are happy to unearth an old privy because
they now get to dig through the garbage of an older people and find
material that was to those people worthless, but tells us as historians
acres about their everyday life.  Furthermore, that cellulose nitrate film
that is now so black that you can't retrieve the information off of it WAS
NOT ALWAYS GARBAGE.  It has BECOME garbage.  I don't think that I would
change this axiom, because I believe that it can have some worth, but I
would certainly add to it,
 
III.  Garbage is garbage, no matter now long I keep it.  But garbage is
a relative term and can change dramatically from collection to
collection.  Think first, what is garbage THIS TIME?
 
> >      IV.        If you've seen one archives, you've seen them all.
 
I can't believe that ANYONE subscribes to this.  On the surface, perhaps,
we all look alike.  Scratch that surface, and you find the entire scope
of human knowledge, with all its many facets.  No two collections are
alike, nor should they be treated in the same way.  To do so is to act
like an automaton, not an archivist.
 
> >      V.         If it doesn't fit in the box, fold it; if you can't fold
> >      it, toss it.
 
Can this honestly be said in a forum where people are talking about their
holdings in architectural drawings?  This narrow-mindedness ties in with
number I.  If you are merely looking at the physical dimensions of an
artifact in making appraisal decisions, rather than looking at its
short-term or long-term importance and the information it conveys, I
question your ability to make those decisions.  I'd change this axiom to say,
 
V.  If it doesn't fit in the box, get a bigger box.
 
> >      VI.        The thoroughness of appraisal is inversely proportional to
> >      the remaining space.
 
This implies that collections acquired by an Archives as it experiences a
space shortage are going to be more heavily weeded than collections that
were acquired when there was no such problem.  Again, the problem here is
that the Archivist is making appraisal decisions based on factors that
have NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE COLLECTION, IT'S LONG-TERM OR
SHORT-TERM IMPORTANCE, AND THE INFORMATION IT CONTAINS.  That does a
disservice to the collection, the people that produced it, and the future
scholars and researchers who will utilize it.  Therefore,
 
VI.  If you're running out of space, get more space.  If you can't get
more space, process your backlog.  If you're still running out of space,
get more space.  Appraisal has to do with the collection's possible
importance.  Processing has to do with your time and resources.
 
 
I'm sorry to take a light hearted jibe and come back with a truckload of
heaviness.  Still, I feel that these axioms are skewed in their intent
and, even taken lightly, can lead the Archivist astray when making
appraisal decisions.  That isn't a light hearted consideration.
 
So, there are my nasturtiums.  I'm certain that my garden isn't as
orderly as yours.  It may even be slightly overgrown.  However, I know
that it contains a large variety of foliage, each unique and beautiful.
 
Gerry A. Stacy                               Phone: (410) 659-8257
The Archives of the Peabody Institute          Fax: (410) 727-5101
1 E. Mt. Vernon Place
Baltimore, MD 21202
 
             Researchers welcome - call for an appointment!
 
       "Education: a debt due from present to future generations."
                                                        George Peabody

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