Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why keep archives?

Student life in the 1960s -- hair rollers, fluffy bathrobes.
OUR MOTTO, WHICH WE DISPENSE freely around the college, is: "Why keep this stuff if you're not going to use it?" And as a preservation professor, we are also well acquainted with the "precious jewels" mentality of some archives. Hands off. Or wear white cotton cloves. Don't breathe on them, etc.

The question to archivists, Lone Arrangers and otherwise, is always how much access to grant. our philosophy is erring on the side of use. We think it's wise, the best and only policy for the Mount.

Along comes the Kappa Delta Chi alumnae sisterhood this morning, a Saturday, to have fun with their own scrapbooks. The sorority, founded in 1929, is helping to note the 85th anniversary of the college this fall with a display from the collections. We have KDX material going back almost to the beginning, because the members saw fit to turn it over to the College Archives.

Another group of alumnae visitors to the archives is researching 85 years of student life (good grief -- how could those girls sleep in rollers?) we've had a group in to research the history of campus philanthropy, and others doing the nursing program (first baccalaureate in California) and the distinguished history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, our founders.

To a woman, they gasp with surprise and delight at their encounters with the archival stuff. They see themselves, old friends, respected predecessors -- all of which adds up to a legacy they are very proud of. And that they're reminded of by the encounter.

Do the files sometimes get out of order? Yes, but they were kind of a mess to begin with. (We Lone Arrangers all have "organize the photos" on our To Do lists.) Do we skim a few years off the life of the object by exposing it in a scanner? Possibly, but otherwise it might not have seen the light of day, ever. Does stuff disappear? Yes -- one of the KDXs alums is believed to borrowed all the scrapbooks from the 1990s and kept them. At least we no longer let stuff out the door.

You may want to argue, but we see this more as a boutique marketplace, a bazaar, of very cool, special information, than the Museum of Priceless Artifacts. Happy patrons are worth giving up a Saturday to help, and we can't wait to see the Founders Week exhibits this October.

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