Preserving for posterity or hoarding?

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail ran an article last week about artist and writer Douglas Coupland. Irrespective of if you are familiar with Coupland’s work, “A Generation X pack rat forfeits his treasures” is a thought-provoking article that explores the fanfare surrounding Coupland’s recent donation of his home’s vast collection of clutter to a university’s library.

On Thursday, the library at the University of British Columbia announced it had acquired Mr. Coupland’s papers, a voluminous and fascinating collection now available to researchers.

Among the treasures is the first draft of the novel Generation X, the title of which became a catchphrase for those who, like the 48-year-old author, were born in the shadow of self-obsessed baby boomers. The opening page of the draft, written in tidy cursive in blue ink, includes the author’s annotations and revisions.

The archive is stored in 122 boxes featuring 30 metres of text and graphic material. It includes 30 objects, 40 audio and videocassettes, and 1,425 photographs, among them a Polaroid snapshot of Terry Fox’s artificial leg. (The prolific author’s credits include a non-fiction book about Mr. Fox’s aborted cross-Canada run.)

Articles such as this always make me uncomfortable with their choice of words like “treasures” and “archives” when discussing someone’s clutter. And, I’m not the one calling the 122 boxes clutter, Coupland is:

“I was feeling like I was on that TV show Hoarders,” Mr. Coupland said Thursday. “The excuses people gave for keeping an old empty Styrofoam cup were the same reasons I was using for holding on to stuff. It was a wake-up moment.

“The moment it was out the door, I felt a thousand pounds lighter.”

Coupland admits that keeping all these things was unfulfilling and he was happy to see all of the clutter go — but the article treats his things like an archeological discovery “now available to researchers.” And, based on a paragraph in the middle of the article, it sounds like the library may have paid for the donation:

The library received the archive 18 months ago after several years of gentle entreaties and, finally, serious negotiations.

Reality is that the majority of us and our things will end up in landfills and recycling centers. We are not Douglas Couplands. No one is interested in our clutter. We do not need to be curators or purveyors of stuff for future generations. But articles like this one seem to promote collecting or hoarding random things on the chance that we might become famous and that someone might be interested in our stuff and they might pay us for it.

What do you think? What came to your mind while you were reading this article? Were you as conflicted about the message of the article as I was? I’m interested in reading your reactions to this thought-provoking piece, and I’m glad Coupland is now living clutter free.

(Thanks to all the readers who sent this news story our way.)

33 Comments for “Preserving for posterity or hoarding?”

  1. posted by Sandy on

    In his case, the stuff he kept that is interesting to the library was related to his creative endeavors. I would hazard a guess that *most* clutter isn’t truly creative; I know none of mine is, so I’ll never be using the “someone may someday want this” excuse.

    I’d also hazard a guess that if he’d kept all that stuff, but *organized* it, it wouldn’t have been “clutter” to him, either, and it still would have felt good to give it away, but in a different way.

    And, it says he got “an undisclosed tax break” in exchange, so not paid directly, but indirectly, he did get some money, yes.

  2. posted by Shizuka on

    I’m not a fan of scraps, junk, minutiae even from a famous person.
    If I don’t keep my own sentimental clutter, why would I care about someone else’s?
    I think this kind of obsession with a celebrity’s objects does encourage clutter/hoarding. Of the people who read this article, there must be a small (I hope, it’s small) percentage of people nodding their heads and thinking, see, it’s worth keeping stuff. I can sell it/donate it/archive when I’m famous.

  3. posted by Karen on

    Pity the poor archivists. Every once in a while, some great work will be re-discovered on a library shelf. So, they end up saving every bit of dreck, just in case there is a pearl buried in there somewhere.

  4. posted by Katy on

    When I worked at a public library we got a lot of well-meant donations. And though we were appreciative for the spirit of giving, the gift was often mildewed, falling apart, or not really relevant. On top of that, formerly-popular trade paperbacks (the most commonly-donated items) are pretty much worth their weight in sawdust.

    THAT SAID, we did have one copy of each (non-mildewed) nearly-worthless paperback on our shelves. The point was that our collection was representative without being excessive. So if you want an object to remember a friend’s wedding, you could keep a centerpiece, an invitation, a photo album… the list goes on. But when you’ve hoarded away all that AND the table-confetti, your collection might need a little “weeding.”

  5. posted by adam on

    While most of us aren’t Couplands, I think there is tremendous value in the process of going through old personal papers. Not school papers so much but old letters and journals (and possibly old drafts of creative works, published or not). This isn’t to say that we ought to hold onto every scrap of paper, but when the opportunity comes to sort it out, occasional treasures surface.

  6. posted by Nicole on

    I tend to disagree with Erin. I feel the collective notes of person as important as Coupland have academic value. Iwould certainly LOVE to read the notes J.K. Rowling made in her drafts of Harry Potter!

    That being said, I doubt anyone would ever find my notes interesting. As a teacher I am attached to my writing and even occasionally juxtapose pieces I wrote in high school to pieces I wrote in college to show students the type of growth that occurs. That being said, I don’t hoard paper copies of all of this. I have the digital files saved on dropbox to use or peruse when the need arises. I appreciate Coupland’s collected works but would never keep all of my paper to clutter up my house.

  7. posted by Amanda on

    Scan, scan, scan! The Fujitsu Scansnap is the solution every writer or family member of a writer needs.

    I am both a writer and the daughter of a recently deceased writer. The amount of paper in my life was massive. When my Dad died, I felt a responsibility to honor my his work by holding on to it, though I knew it was unlikely I’d ever read through the majority of it.

    As for my own work, there’s no expiration date on good ideas, so “Justin Case”is a good friend. Plus, by its nature, writing is often very personal.

    Still paper is heavy and cumbersome.

    Enter the Fujuitsu Scansnap! Expensive yes, but best $450 I ever spent. I was able to scan large quantities of my Dad’s work and chuck the originals. I felt like I was still honoring him. And actually the act of scanning the stuff forced me to go through it all in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d just been lugging boxes around my whole life.

    And scanning my own stuff was revelatory. I found drafts of scripts I hadn’t remembered ever writing and realized that I hadn’t wasted my 20s to the degree I’d previously thought. I don’t think I’ll ever go back and reread that Ally McBeal spec I wrote… but knowing I have it on a hard drive (with a double back-up system) makes me happy. And lighter.

    All I an say is, thank goodness my Dad wasn’t a painter!

  8. posted by Lisa on

    Forgive me, my first thought was “maybe he’ll start writing good books again.”

  9. posted by Sam on

    It’s quite possible that the negotiation was over what the archive would and could take, not over what they would pay for it.

    It costs a library or an archive quite a lot of money to take a donation; staff time, storage space, the huge amount of processing that goes on to make it findable and accessible to the public. A lot of what people try to donate, famous or not, really is clutter and rubbish, and the archive must be careful only to take the important parts and discard the rest – if the donor is trying to make them take the whole collection no questions asked they might be reticent!

    I think someone noted upthread that the negotiation was about a tax break as well, presumably due to it being a charitable donation – negotiating what it’s “worth” when the recipient isn’t paying for it is a fraught process for non-consumer items.

  10. posted by Demerna on

    Journals, letters, and writings from both famous and ordinary people have academic value. It depends on what the academic is studying. I just finished a piece based mostly on old photographs, letters, and journals. Without these sources it would have been impossible to come to any substantial conclusion, since the item I was studying has simply been forgotten in that region.
    I also recently read a book discussing the early Cold War through popular comics. The author used both commonly known and obscure titles. If those obscure titles had not been kept and saved a lot of insight would have been lost.

  11. posted by Nancy on

    One could argue that any museum is just a big repository for clutter. Those old paintings Vince did…. Those sketches and such that Leo did….

    But there is a vast difference between history and garbage. And yes…garbage tells it’s own tale. Archeologists look to a population’s garbage dump to tell the story too. But that’s where the garbage is. In the place meant to store the garbage! Not in the living room.

    Being able to distinguish the garbage from the clutter from the history is the key. Clear out the clutter by throwing the garbage into the dump and archiving the history.

  12. posted by Jennifer on

    I feel torn about this article, too. I am fascinated by “treasures” that people have kept or are found after a long period of time. There’s something magical and mysterious about it, like I’m going to be able to see or hear about what was found and make an important discovery from it. Or be smarter because I know about it. Or that one day my kids will find something of mine that they think is amazing and that will make me “cool.” The reality is, I really shouldn’t use my things (clutter or not) as a way of defining myself, but I do! And I keep things all of the time because I “might” use it or it “might” be important to my kids one day. It’s really sad actually trying to make a decision about it and to also let other people, like my husband, let go of things he no longer wants as well.

  13. posted by Senora H-B on

    This is such an interesting article. As an academic, I think I can sometimes see value in things that others might consider clutter. However, as mentioned above, those things must be archived in an organized manner to be useful. And really, if something isn’t useful, though my definition of useful includes more than utility in a physical sense, then it’s clutter.

    I don’t consider myself an overly sentimental person. I have been known to throw away pictures or keep birthday cards or invitations. However, I have been very interested to read my ancestors’ journals of their lives in the past–for example, my great-great-great-grandfather’s diary of his travails with the pioneers in the west offers a really interesting view of his personal experiences and sheds light on the experiences of others. The key, though, is that we don’t have 300 journals crammed in a box in the basement–we just have the one. It’s well cared for and holds a place of honor in our family. So for us, it’s not clutter.

    I think it ultimately comes down to defining what is useful for an individual. For me, reading about my ancestors has shaped who I am in some ways. In terms of my professional life, accessing the archives of my predecessors in my field has shaped my line of research. Having access to those things is useful for me. Having access to a pile of my mom’s old movie ticket stubs or calculator tapes is not useful to me.

    Like Nancy said above, there’s a need to distinguish garbage from clutter. I would add that from that clutter, a collection of the best or most interesting items should also be distinguished and the rest, frankly, tossed.

  14. posted by Adventure-Some Matthew on

    I think this does an excellent job of highlighting the fact that clutter is different to everyone. To those who enjoy seeing the “behind-the-scenes” process that authors go through, especially those interested in Douglas Coupland, this is a goldmine. To those who aren’t interested, it is clutter.
    Obviously, the museum found it to be valuable, even though many of its patrons may never find it interesting to peruse.

  15. posted by Alanna on

    As a Librarian (although Medical) I see both sides. However, I also struggle. I understand the importance of taking care of items, storing them properly and keeping objects that “may one day be important”. (That bit’s the struggle).

    Coupland’s objects obviously have a serious social meaning or the Library wouldn’t have bothered pursuing them. Professors and stakeholders would have been interested in them. Libraries are normally mandated to serve their users not themselves. Taking care of history and making it available for future generations is important. I learned so much as a child all they way into my Master’s from history. It has helped explain all the bits I missed before I was born (or interested).

    I think the important note to take from this is that are homes don’t need to be archives or museums. That’s why we have institutions and people who are trained and practiced in collecting and organizing what we don’t necessarily need in our homes.

    Meanwhile my home can be a home with a few special pieces. When I want to see the big stuff I go online, read a book or take a vacation to see the items. :)Way more fun and less work for me.

  16. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I can see keeping the drafts of his manuscripts & maybe photos if they are related to any of his works (and the thought process that went into them), but anything else should be tossed.

    Sounds like he just escaped a fire trap!

  17. posted by nj progressive on

    I work in an urban public library (as the grant writer), and we have a number of archival collections. Some are regularly used (materials related to a Negro League baseball team from the 1930s and 40s up to the time that the major leagues were integrated by Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby).

    Other collections are much less used but no less valuable to researchers. One collection of materials donated by a retired historian and community activist included more that 150 cubic feet of materials (roughly 150 file boxes). The archival assistants who are processing the materials are weeding out duplicate copies of flyers for community meetings and civic organizations (not to mention research notes), photocopying fragile materials onto acid-free paper (so that researchers can use the copies), putting photographs in mylar sleeves to protect them from handling, and making digital copies of rare vinyl recordings, reel-to-reel tapes of oral histories, and VHS tapes. When everything is processed the collection may total only 75 to 80 cubic feet of physical material.

    Previous commenters are right that it was doubtful that Coupland received payment for his materials, although it does happen (Norman Mailer was paid by the Ransom Center for the Humanities at the University of Texas in Austin for his papers, for example).

    And archivists will, no doubt, whittle down the volume of material from what was originally donated. The negotiation was (probably) over what would be donated and the terms of access for researchers (some of Mark Twain’s papers are just now being released, more than 100 years after being written).

  18. posted by Cosa on

    Interesting. I do agree with the author, conflicted with the clutter being put up in a pedestal because it comes from an artist. I do believe with some artists some of the clutter is a great way to read their history as evolving artists, the way they expressed themselves, the way different things have influenced them, but the majority of clutter is just useless stuff. Stuff is stuff is stuff.
    An exception to my belief: I went to elementary school with quite a talented little boy that would become a fairly recognized artist. In our class there was another talented little boy, this one a business man from a young age. As the little artist drew and sketched different things in class and throw them away in the trash bin, the other little business man would pick them up and say “one day I’ll be rich, you all keep laughing at me, but these will be worth a lot of $”. I’m still in contact with them and would love know how much that trash is worth today…

  19. posted by cdelphine on

    I struggle with this because of the unexpected value of seemingly everyday items. Think of how fascinating a grocery store receipt will be in 100 years. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that somebody else can save all these things for the future historians and archaeologists. I’m even getting rid of my movie ticket stubs!

  20. posted by chacha1 on

    Nobody has mentioned the first thing that came to *my* mind, which is that future biographers of Mr. Coupland and future social/cultural historians of Canada are going to be very grateful to have this material. Anyone who has ever written a thesis will understand the value of “primary” materials.

    It is the very rare (perhaps nonexistent) person who is actually able to look at their own detritus and determine what would be of value to posterity. Coupland evidently didn’t even want to try.

    In reality, most of us who are not prominent artists, writers, or scientists – or whose families do not include people meeting those descriptions – probably don’t have detritus worthy of hanging onto “justin case” a library or museum wants them someday.

    Our detritus does not include unpublished novels or art or theorems or proofs or lab studies. Our detritus includes mostly personal and sentimental ephemera. So I don’t think it’s quite fair to apply the standards of the ordinary to people who are prominent, prolific, and respected creators.

  21. posted by Aisha on

    This is my problem with taking decluttering/uncluttering too far. Social history is fascinating and very hard to do when all the interesting papers have been shredded. And yes, scanning is an option, but I’m sure the archivists can tell you in much greater detail than I about the fragility of electronic archives. Paper, we can read 50 years from now, 100 years from now. 5.25inch floppy drive, anyone???

    So notes, diaries, documentary evidence of a person’s life, these are all valuable. AND in the case of an artist, perhaps more valuable. But really, the mundane is the basis of real historical accounts. e.g. I found a letter from my dad to his mother, first few months at boarding school. Turns out, this was the same time as the agitations for the subcontinent’s independence from British rule. And 8 yr old him talks about being under curfew because of the riots. This is mixed in with “I miss you, and the older boys SWEAR!” A lot of his letters have been lost. At least one of them provides a fascinating real-life glimpse into an important political event…

  22. posted by J. on

    In the case of Coupland’s stuff: yes, there probably is some crap in amongst the jewels, but the archivists will weed out duplicates and other non-contributing items when the process the collection. I think it would be a good collection for a researcher to have access to.

    I work at a community history museum, and we do accept for donation things that might have been considered clutter in other contexts (for example: a pair of shoes from the 1920s was probably considered clutter by its owner in the 1930s). However, the items we accept have to be in good condition and have sterling provenance (in other words, they must be associated with a person or institution from our community, or be representative of something that would have been used in our community in the past). We turn down literally tons of items a year that do not fit these requirements–we museum staff members joke that we are many folks’ last stop on the way to the dump, and we do not appreciate having the hard decision to throw out a relatives’ dessicated clutter foisted on us. I have literally worn plastic gloves and a mask and pawed through garbage bags of blood-stained and moth-eaten ragged clothing, just because someone claimed to have thought the museum might have some use for them!

    Also, I agree with Aisha: as someone who is in the business of preservation, I am worried about this push to scan paper and throw away the originals. In our collections storage, we have shelves of media that were once considered cutting edge (microfilm of old newspapers from the 18th century that were thrown away after being filmed, for example) that are in deteriorating condition and are hard to access. I don’t relish the thought of having to figure out how to convert today’s digital files to whatever media we’ll be using in the future. Paper doesn’t present these conversion problems! Also, the physical paper itself can give you all kinds of useful information if you know what you’re looking at (watermarks, printing techniques, and etc.). I’d rather have the real thing in my hands, every time, than deal with a deteriorating or inaccessible duplicate.

  23. posted by Patch on

    I’m down to literally the last layer of my Stuff, and I could technically live without at least 98% of it.

    My problem is, I’m not sure what to do with it —

    I have a lot of it currently listed for sale, but in over a year only 2 small items have sold at all so obviously no one else needs it either.

    I refuse to put it in landfills, and I’ve already donated to every thrift store and charitable organization in my current local area, as well as the state I lived in previously. I’ve tried Freecycle, but got a little disillusioned with many of the posters there.

    I know my Stuff could be useful to and used BY someone, I just don’t know who.

    Is there a catch-all website somewhere that matches up esp. non-profit wish lists with those that can supply the item(s)? COULD THERE BE such a site?

  24. posted by Eira on

    As someone who works in an archive and processes a lot of donations like this, please trust that the archival profession and archivists have very clearly defined appraisal and processing procedures to deal with situations exactly like this. Archivists are trained professionals who know the difference between hoarding a bunch of junk and processing a collection (and weeding!) in order to preserve the papers and records that will be useful to researchers for generations. No reputable archive would ever take a collection as-is without arrangements being made for in-house work to be done to the materials. As other commenters have noted, archives generally have very clear donation agreements with donors, which will state that the archive has the authority to weed out or transfer material that it deems unnecessary for retention.

    And although a lot of us might think that our mundane bits of ephemera are not worth preserving, my experience working with researchers leads me to disagree. We have researchers come in all the time who want things like middle-class women’s diaries from 150 years ago. Well guess what? Most people didn’t think things like that were worth hanging on to 150 years ago, and so those materials have been lost in the long arc of time, and what few diaries have survived are very prized by researchers. We can never know what people 150 years from now will want, but to say that we don’t have anything “worth saving” is misguided, to put it mildly.

  25. posted by Sandra on

    I see this as very different from clutter, though it may have become clutter to him. He’s a major Canadian author, and the archives are lucky that he had all this stuff. It’s clearly “papers,” not like all the paper that most of us accumulate.

    Very Canadian: Terry Fox (major Canadian hero); Esso (still a brand in Canada); Kraft Dinner (iconic to the point that it’s been the subject of art).

  26. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    Interesting. I believe that the quantity of what he kept doesn’t necessarily translate to “clutter” if it’s organized and stored properly; that’s what collectors do. Here’s the specific description from the article of what was donated:

    “The archive is stored in 122 boxes featuring 30 metres of text and graphic material. It includes 30 objects, 40 audio and videocassettes, and 1,425 photographs, among them a Polaroid snapshot of Terry Fox’s artificial leg. (The prolific author’s credits include a non-fiction book about Mr. Fox’s aborted cross-Canada run.)”

    Unless I missed something in the article, there was no indication that Mr. Coupland lived in cluttered chaos. Maybe he did, maybe not, but if he was organized (everything in boxes), he had a collection. It didn’t become clutter until eventually he found the collection oppressive (too crowded to keep it) and was happy to see it go. While that made it clutter for him, it was still perceived as a collection, and a valuable one, by the university’s library. This seems like a win-win situation for both Mr. Coupland and the library.

    I agree that most people will not have the need (or the storage space) to document their lives with 122 boxes full of primarily papers, but most people with clutter problems have chaos surrounding them, not an archive of their work and lives. Mr. Coupland’s reference to “Hoarders” seemed to be simply a psychological insight on his part that he was not obligated to hold onto the documents himself and be their librarian. That’s a significant moment of awareness and he acted on it by deciding to let everything go. I suspect that most people with clutter problems would still have to agonize over many little decisions about every item even after they acknowledged their situations.

    But, like I said, it’s tricky. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re keeping things of value when most of the stuff is junk. Perspective is everything and it’s often helpful if it’s provided by an outside source. In Mr. Coupland’s case, he’d been pursued by the university for years. That’s a clue that he wasn’t just hanging onto useless clutter.

    However, I am prompted by reading about this to clean out my filing cabinets!

  27. posted by Sharon on

    I think that saving some things for posterity is appropriate. If you have children, then one day in the future your descendants would appreciate a few things from their past ancestors. I’m an amateur genealogist and scrapbooker.

    But to be practical you have to think about storage concerns. If you don’t have the room to store, don’t store. Do NOT sacrifice your safety and happiness by storing stacks of stuff in your main walk throughs and living areas. But if you have an attic, basement, garage, closet, etc then you can selectively save some things. It must be out of sight and out of the way, organized, protected. If you don’t have the ability to organize and protect or you don’t have the room, then don’t keep it.

    The key word is “selectively”. You keep your financial papers for as long as the IRS requires or as long as you own the item. After that, flip through the files and pick some representative items to put in an “Archive” file for each year. A paycheck stub, a utility bill, a property tax receipt, the receipt for that heirloom desk you purchased, the invoice for the new car, home purchase. Just a few things that would interest someone 50-100 yrs from now. “Can you believe they only paid $350,000 for that home back in 2009?”; “He only made $75,000 back then. How did they live?”; or, “How could they spend $45,000 for a car? Cars now are only $2500. Why would they spend so much?”. LOL!

    If you have the room, you can keep the dress you wore to your son’s wedding or your own wedding dress, the Christening gown for your daughter, the dress you wore to the President’s Inaugural Ball, your son’s first overalls. But you don’t have to keep every sock, petticoat, t-shirt, shorts, hat you ever wore. That would be absurd. But, again, only if you have the room to store without it encroaching on your normal living.

    My Grandma kept prayers and poems and recipes that she clipped from their newspaper. She kept them in a few shoe boxes in her walk up attic. I find them precious. It’s absolutely worthless but they represent something that she found important and showed me a side of her. I can just see her sitting in her kitchen at her dinette table, clipping those items and filing them in her shoe box. But, again, it was “small” items and she had a place to store it. If you don’t have a place to store it, it’s not worth keeping. Especially today with computers and the Internet. If I need a recipe I can use my computer and the Internet to find it and not have to keep cook books and recipe cards.

  28. posted by lisa on

    I was a school friend of Doug’s and kept several things from his student shows, because I knew he would be famous some day. About a year before he published Generation X, I purged my clutter, including those hand made show invitations, etc. I’m happy that I learned to get rid of crap, and still have my happy memories of our shared experiences.

  29. posted by lahope on

    Yesterday I interviewed by a couple of filmmakers who are working on a documentary about feminists of the 60s-70s. Although I’m definitely anti clutter, I’ve saved a few things, so I was able to pull out an obscure journal for the filmmakers that my friend who was prominent in the radical feminist wing of the movement edited and wrote for. They were practically drooling over it!

    Last year I donated my deposition from a local cause celebre court case to a university special collections and plan to add other items about the case. I’m also working on having the archives of our union deposited in these same archives as one of its foci is local labor history.

    I also have photographs my grandfather took of his hometown and friends in Idaho around the turn of the century as well as photos he took as a medic at Ft. Riley KS in WWI and in his medical school and residency at the University of Iowa. I’m trying to decide if I should split up the photos or donate all of them to the historical society of the town where he was raised.

    Last week I got an email from a friend who has written several research based books that he is starting research for a historical novel about the Civil War. I was able to send him an electronic copy of a poignant letter written from my gggrandfather to my gggrandmother telling her among other things to make sure that the children all get educations should he not return from the war (he didn’t). I’m glad family members cared enough to save it and share it with me!

    Finally, I have a friend who is the long time personal manager of a high profile singer/songwriter. My friend is in a purge mode, tossing files left and right. I’m trying to convince her to donate these files and her bosses’ papers to an archive. Another friend is a producer who specializes in movies of the week. She just moved her office and was shredding files. I suggested she donate them. Her reply was that the actors wouldn’t appreciate having their contracts on view. I said, well, you could restrict access for a certain number of years.

  30. posted by OogieM on

    I agree with the archivists and researchers who have commented. You have no clue what will be useful or interesting in 50 or 100 or 500 years so a well documented original source is of great value. And for those who think the mundane is not useful. What are the most interesting and missing bits of past generations? The way the ordinary and unremarkable people lived their regular lives.

    A collection like that is most definitely not clutter and then again neither is a collection of yearbooks, or diaries or even letters from ordinary folks. While keeping too much stuff may become clutter before throwing away your history think carefully about it.

    If you go down the scan to digital route budget and plan for either a conversion to a new file format or a new media about every 3-5 years. That is how you handle the 5 1/4 inch floppy syndrome. And that brings up one problem with small local historical societies and collections. Often they get grant money to digitize or preserve rare collections but the money to maintain the digital collection is hard to come by. I sure wish more grant donors understood that maintenance is as critical or even more critical than initial capture.

  31. posted by Tiffany on

    A better question would be does the university plan on getting rid of any of this? He seems relieved that he can visit this clutter any time he likes, but some of it does not seem like archive material. Are some of these archive collections just clutter in and of themselves? I love art and books and old writings, but do I want to see Jane Austen’s Kleenex? No.

  32. posted by L. on

    I agree with the uncluttering philosophy generally, but I am really bothered by the implication I see here again and again, that there is little to no significance to an object as opposed to the scanned image or a photograph of the object. There are all sorts of subtleties and nuances to the actual object–its weight, feel, scent, colors, materials, etc. And I think there really is a spiritual validity to valuing something because it was held by a certain person or dates from a certain time.

    I certainly get the point that we can’t hold on to every last child’s drawing or holiday card, and maybe we don’t want to keep many of them at all. I’m all for scanning the many annoying but necessary business and financial documents that come into our lives. But I just don’t agree that objects have so little inherent value–in general, even, not just to one particular person.

  33. posted by LeeAnn Balbirona on

    I used to have this exact mentality…better save it for posterity…some day it might be interesting to “somebody.” Artists, authors, politicians and other potentitally historically interesting people shouldn’t feel obligated to keep every little thing. History is more interesting with a little bit of mystery. Each person should self-edit their possessions and material legacy to their own satisfaction. Personally, I have found it very freeing to put 90% of my sentimental memoribilia in the trash. I try and put my focus on the NOW and going forward.

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