A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance. ~~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Last Friday our guest on the “Voices of Northeast” series (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/voices-of-northeast-minneapolis-captured-and-shared-on-video/)
was Richard (Dick) Kelly, retired University of Minnesota librarian. Dick spoke eloquently of his work curating a number of major personal papers and libraries, including the John Berryman collection, sharing delightful stories of marginal notes and even the way that Berryman’s books were shelved in his home. Though Dick was quick to remind me that he is indeed a librarian not an archivist, as I listened to his wise comments and his breadth of experience I kept thinking of how complementary – and interdependent. The symbiotic relationship of professions committed to preserving our culture heritage is more than ever essential. The information/communications revolution determines that information and ideas, stored in ever-evolving formats, flow freely through an ever-expanding network of channels. As a society we face the challenge to craft a mix of rules and responsibilities, formats and functions that assure preservation of this “heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge.”
And so my thoughts in recent days have tended to revolve that challenge – to explore as a concerned human just how we can assure that this vast resource – the recorded knowledge of humankind – can achieve status as a public priority. Preservation of our heritage must thrive, never languish, in the complex netherworld of “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.”
My pondering and probing soon led me to the inevitable digital dive where I found rich resources, human and recorded, that offer comfort and inspire the compulsion to act.
First, I learned that my timing is spot on – We are midweek of Preservation Week 2016, sponsored by the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, the Library of Congress and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. (http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/sponsors) There I learned that the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections, conducted over a decade ago, revealed that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items, 63% of which are housed in libraries. Forget tomes and Hollinger files, these are moving images, maps, paintings, sound recordings, apps and countless other formats that were not yet envisioned a decade ago. Given the enormity of the treasures, experts assess that 630 million items cry out for attention – while 80% of the institutions, from county historical societies to corporations to academic libraries and museums, have no paid staff responsible for care of the collection.
Needless to say, the history of the nation is yet to be explored, much less interpreted. More than ever, understanding our heritage demands access to the records of the globe. At the opposite end of the continuum, one need only turn on the TV to learn of individuals’ and families’ passion to know more about their roots.
As I dug more deeply I learned that May 1 is MayDay, a complementary event spearheaded by the Association of American Archives/. (http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/mayday-saving-our-archives#.Vx_xvktEB4M) Though the message may be subliminal, MayDay is not your ordinary distress signal but the annual grassroots initiative to build public awareness of the complexities and critical state of preserving our cultural heritage.
Clearly, this modest blog is something short of a blip on the archival radar. My hope is that this grassroots call to action, a hope that readers will pause to ponder the imperative to pay heed to the recorded legacy of this nation – a narrative told by millions of individuals in vast formats. Much like the narrators themselves, these archival records face the challenge of age, obsolescence, vulnerability, and, above all, inattention.
Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident. ~~ Thomas Jefferson