The Burden of Information

It strikes me that I've recently been dealing with "archival" issues in my personal life.

Before I proceed, let me admit here: I am a pack rat. My husband is a pack rat. We were both born of pack-rat parents.

For the past few months, I've been going through our house, room by room, labeling things as "Goodwill," "trash", "eBay," or placing them in a location where--gasp!--they actually belong. (Maybe I should call it Personal Weeding.) Last week, I got to a box labelled "notebooks." I opened it and found it filled to the brim with the fodder of undergrad and graduate courses alike; the undergrad notebooks peppered with doodles and the grad notebooks carefully labeled with print-outs stating the course title, number, and date. All my digested knowledge, right there in one box.

Have I opened that box in the past decade? Yes--but only to determine what it was before moving it to another room. Do I plan to reread my notes--particularly my undergrad ones? As funny as some of those doodles are, are they worth the square foot of space that the box occupies? Are they worth transporting to another house in a few years? It was a surprisingly easy decision to toss them in the "trash" pile.

The grad notebooks were harder. They're recent, they're relevant, they're nicely labeled and organized (miracle of miracles). I hated to toss notebooks that I could easily line up in chronological order.

But then... when will I need to use these? If I'm working on art research, won't I be looking up actual articles and books? Will I really care what I thought about Whistler's "gentle art of making scandal" five years ago? Isn't this all just ephemera?

I made a historic decision, I who still have grade-school notebooks and mixed tapes from the early '90s stashed somewhere. I tossed the entire box. All of it.

As I drove home from my Digital Libraries course on Tuesday, I realized that I've experienced quite a shift in my archival tendencies. Just as I used to be a religious pack-rat, I used to believe that we ought to keep every scrap of information, to preserve the human record. This belief didn't come to me when I started library school; it was born of an education in the humanities that emphasized history. Every diary, every list of household expenses sheds some light on the historical record.

But library science is a practical discipline; that's the reason it's in the sciences. In my early classes, I panicked about how to save ephemera, how to save emails, how to preserve these scraps of information for centuries. And to some extent, being a digital archivist, I still have those concerns--how will we preserve information on CDs when our CD drives are gone, how do I adequately archive a website, etc. But, ironically, taking a course in preservation shifted my view (as you can see in this previous post). As I mentioned there, that class showed me that if we save every bit of ephemera, it's going to get awfully difficult to discover and to access relevant information.

And that's my new shift of thinking at home, too. If I don't get rid of a few of those boxes I only open once every few years, then I won't be able to reach my bookcases--because there will be a veritable wall of labeled boxes in front of it. Not that this is the current situation in my guest room. No, there are just a few boxes--it's the rows of paint racks that are really blocking the bookcases.

Notes on Travel & Blogging:
  • Starting tomorrow, I'll be on the road for ten days, so I thought I'd give my readership a heads-up now. I'll definitely post irregularly, I may post infrequently, but I have not abandoned my bloginess. I'll be at the FDLP Fall Conference in Washington, DC until 10/25, then Abilene, TX for my alma mater's Homecoming celebration. Regular blogship should resume by 10/30.
  • Also, you may or may not have noticed that I finally switched this blog over to my Google account--hence the fancy changes in the sidebar. If you have trouble posting comments, this may be the reason.

1 comment:

Michael A. Golrick said...

I can identify with this. I am changing jobs soon. After six years in this office, I have accumulated an amazing bunch of stuff. What goes out and what goes with me? That is a critical question, especially since the journey is not insignificant in terms of miles (just over 1,100 miles according to Mapquest).

I've tossed six years of American Libraries and all the divisional journals which came with my membership. I've tossed the state and regional association journals. More to come, I am sure!

My task at home is equally hard, or perhaps harder having lived in the same house for 20 years. There are patches (Boy Scouts) and files galore! Plus there are the now too large clothes, which vastly outnumber the clothes which fit!

Good luck.