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Category Archives: archives

how to find books in 1905

CC image courtesy of ttcopley on Flickr

I’m currently working on a paper about the history of the DC Public Library and have been looking through articles in the Washington Post from the early 20th century (thank you, ProQuest).  While public libraries have transformed in many ways, some things haven’t changed.  Here’s an excerpt from an article published February 19, 1905 titled “How to Find Books.”

LOOK FOR THE CALL NUMBERS

At the District Public Library, readers often wish a certain book or books, but dislike to take the trouble to consult the card catalogue to find the call numbers.  This feeling is perfectly natural, and those who work in libraries thoroughly understand it.  But, nevertheless, annoying though it is to some, to find these call numbers is in most cases absolutely necessary, for it is by them that the books are arranged in classes and put in their places on the shelves, and without the numbers to guide them the pages are at a loss to find the books — or at best the books can only be found after a long search, which means a tedious wait for the reader.  Consequently care should be taken to copy the whole call number accurately…

The catalogue itself as used in the District Public Library is the simplest and most widely used form of the card catalogue, and should be consulted exactly like a dictionary.  It is arranged in alphabetic order, and books are entered under their author’s name and also under their subject.

Citation:
“How to Find Books: Method of Cataloguing at the District Library. Look for the Call Numbers System Employed is Much Like that of a Dictionary — Books Listed Under the Name of the Author, the Subject, and the Title — Recent Additions to the Shelves — some Useful Information.” The Washington Post (1877-1922): R3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1993). 1905. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/144534396?accountid=8285>

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in archives

 

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the power of archives

I just finished reading Randall C. Jimerson’s 2007 article “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice” — and I loved it!  I can’t wait to read his book Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice.  Here’s the article abstract:

Archivists should use their power—in determining what records will be preserved for future generations and in interpreting this documentation for researchers—for the benefit of all members of society.  By adopting a social conscience for the profession, they can commit themselves to active engagement in the public arena.  Archivists can use the power of archives to promote accountability, open government, diversity, and social justice.  In doing so, it is essential to distinguish objectivity from neutrality.  Advocacy and activism can address social issues without abandoning professional standards of fairness, honesty, detachment, and transparency.

Some personal background will tell you why I liked it so much.  Politically, I sit on the very far left of the spectrum.  Academically, I am of the critical theory and postmodern persuasion.  In college, I was a social justice activist.  So this article was meant for me.  This post is an initial reaction from reading the article, so forgive me if these thoughts are not completely cohesive.

As “record keepers,” archivists have power.  A lot of it.  The archives profession is associated with the history discipline for a reason.  We influence the context of how documents are perceived through our description, finding aids, etc.  The (not so) simple act of choosing which records are preserved or accessioned is a huge exercise of power — it can determine if a narrative or event is ever remembered or known.  Jimerson’s article includes many examples of how documents have held governments accountable.  Because archives shape our historical memory, it’s important that we not only keep records of institutions and their leadership, but the “ordinary” everyday people as well.

Today, if someone isn’t online, if they don’t have a findable web presence, or if their online presence isn’t archived — will they cease to be remembered in the future?  It’s a scary thought.  We aren’t living in a completely digital world yet and can’t forget about those who only exist in the analog.  I feel like so many archival institutions are busy either working on a backlog of unprocessed collections, digitizing already processed ones, or trying to figure out how to preserve electronic records.  With the romanticism of technology and shifting focus towards digital preservation, I hope we don’t forget about our responsibility to preserve the paper records that are still being created.  Not to say archives aren’t currently fulfilling that responsibility — it just seems like no one is talking about it.  This hybrid world we live in seems to only create more questions about the future, and while we should anticipate and plan for it, we can’t forget about our responsibilities to the present.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2011 in archives

 

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the blurry line between private and public: what do we have a right to know?

This question is one I’m constantly thinking about, so I suspect this post will only be “part one.”  Last semester I wrote a research paper examining different cultural values of knowledge sharing and the impact of open access on cultural materials, specifically Native American archives.  And the question came up once again after reading this Boston Globe article on restricted Robert F. Kennedy papers and this response by Representative John Tierney.  I also often think about this question because our society seems to have an obsession with speculating about the private lives of celebrities, as well as trying to learn everything about secret societies (and scientology).  What information does the public have a right to know?

I completely understand the argument for opening access to the RFK papers because I’m a huge advocate of government transparency (I’m not very trusting when it comes to big institutions like the government and massive corporations).  I do believe that open access to government information is the foundation for a strong democracy, but how does knowledge of people’s private lives or cultural rituals promote democracy?  Or rather, is not knowing personal details damaging in some way?  Sure, I may be curious occasionally (or often) about who is dating who and what they were wearing on the street, but I don’t believe I have any sort of right to know.  When it comes to public officials, I think I ultimately only care about their character and integrity — and lying or misleading the public about their personal lives and beliefs can certainly affect my opinion, leaving their personal lives in a swampy grey area.

In my research paper from last semester, I argued that open access is not always in the interest of the public good, nor is restriction of access always in conflict with the values of information science.  Because access is not a simple issue, archivists must become familiar with different cultural perspectives on information, privacy, and knowledge sharing.  We need to be aware of what things can be considered culturally sensitive, even if we don’t necessarily follow guidelines such as the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.  Archivists are certainly not alone in facing these issues but can learn from and work with other professionals who critically examine similar questions, especially anthropologists and sociologists.

Another story to add to this discussion concerns Franz Kafka’s papers.  Kafka burned most of his work during his lifetime.  When he died, he left his papers (manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, sketches) to a close friend — and asked that the material be burned unread.  This request was ignored and resulted in the publication of The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.  Did Kafka’s friend do him a favor, or should it be considered a betrayal?  Currently, his papers are trapped in a legal battle.

This posts asks many complicated questions, and I know they’re not easy to answer — but they’re all important ideas to explore.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in access, archives, privacy

 

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