Archival rant ahead

including faxes that have totally faded over the years

Rebus author Ian Rankin wants to do a wonderful thing and donate his archive of papers to National Library of Scotland. Donating an archive to a library where it will be able to be viewed and used is a wonderful thing and I’m sure I can think of many authors who are important enough to warrant having their own archive waiting for research to happen. But, I’m not as this is a rant about archiving.

I’m not an archivist and I’m sure I can ask my friend who is a qualified archivist to write a few words or at least talk about his job enough so I can write some comprehensible words about it so I start with that qualifier in mind. I do have some small amount of knowledge about it and some thoughts.

Faxes fade, if they’re printed out on the old style paper with the old style fax ink they will fade given enough time. If you look at your credit card slips from three or four years ago you’ll notice they’re either blank or fading quickly and it’s been recommended since the 1980s that if you had something you needed to keep for more than a few years that you should photocopy it as that reproduction keeps much longer. So why would you keep boxes of important documents on fax paper for 30 odd years? At this stage I’d either donate it to a kindergarten for them to reuse or send it in for pulping and reusing.

Some papers are more useful than others when it comes to research and while I shouldn’t comment on receipts I’m going to because it’s that kind of article. There are two schools of thought with regard to receipts, one is to just throw them out as they only add bulk to the archive, the other is to keep them forever as it makes it possible to look back and see the prices of things and put together a good picture of society at that time. If you’re wanting a good picture of society and the prices of things then you really need receipts from a whole range of areas of society and a whole range of goods and services, I’d suggest the receipts Ranking has are really only related to his writing and could probably be summarised and then thrown out.

We have this ‘keep everything’ mentality and that means our houses are full to busting as are our galleries, museums and libraries. I have this same issue and am constantly trying to downsize my papers as a prelude to downsizing other things within my house. Papers that were once important but probably aren’t now are being scanned into the computer before being shredded ready for recycling, I’ve filled about 10 boxes with shredded paper and dumped in the recycling plant, I will continue to do more.

I’m just looking at how much stuff we have, in the old days families would have a small box of very important papers but now we have filing cabinets worth of them, they would go through these papers and photos every so often and discuss them as a family, it was a way of reconnecting to the past but now we have so, so much it’s impossible to do this.

I’m only talking about the physical papers and photos and not the virtual ones, the ones on the computer, on social media somewhere out there in the world of the internet where they can be found by so many people. Not going there today, that’s a whole new rant.