Regular readers of this blog may wonder why so many recent pieces about archives and archivists. The truth is that American Archives Month has presented an opportunity to think about a topic I’ve wanted to ponder for a relatively short while. Though folks may think it’s in the librarian DNA to think about archives, the fact is my interest is fueled not by training or long years of working in the library world but by my more recent dip into writing, particularly writing about the history of my neighborhood.
As a patron of Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library I have had the opportunity, the time and the incentive to dig deep into those archives. It’s in handling the documents and photos, reading the notes left by past archivists and librarians, noting the care with which the records are physically preserved, that I have come to appreciate the commitment of the individuals and of the institution itself to preserving the stories of our community.
Clearly, this is the same attitude and support that have created community library collections, county and local historical societies, the records of state agencies, nonprofits, the papers of individuals and institutions that have been shared, even digitized – and the records that have yet to be discovered.
Though it is my good fortune to be able to explore the archives in the serenity of the James Hosmer Special Collections – and with the generous assistance of extraordinary staff, I have become a ardent advocate for digitization that brings the content, if not the ambiance, to the learner. Whether that learner wants to know about his or her family, town, college, church, business, environment, house or neighborhood, the armchair searcher has exponentially expanding digital access. That means that archivists have not only turned paper photos into machine readable digits; they have cataloged the information so that the finding tools guide the searcher to the range of options or to the precise goal of the information quest.
It is of increasing concern that today’s extreme focus on today blinds the public and the Deciders to the importance – and the delight — of knowing from whence we came – and the beautiful human inclination to share with our descendents the stories of what we were thinking and doing “in the day.”
Something to think about as legislators, lobbyists and football franchise owners covet those Legacy funds that have opened the doors to many of the state’s archives.