Personal biases and archives

May 29, 2014

What do we choose to archive and how do our own individual biases affect how we interact with our materials?


One of my favorite stories about how we each approach collections with our own biases was from a speaker I heard several years ago at the Society of American Archivists conference.  He talked about being in Europe doing research in an institution and he and another gentleman were the only ones in the reading room.  As this poor man snuffled through all the dusty old paper, the other man was going through materials one by one.  He would pick up an envelope and take a long sniff  - sometimes he would simply move the envelope aside and move on to the next item.  Sometimes, after the long sniff, he would open the envelope and make some notes from the contents..  Finally the first researcher asked what the gentleman was doing.    He explained that he was researching areas that had been affected by the plague.  In these areas, envelopes were sprinkled with vinegar in hopes to eliminate the plague so he was smelling each envelope to see which ones smelled of vinegar.


Who would have thought the smell of the artifact was important?  In this increasingly digital world, how do we capture the information that is important for our patrons?  How do we consider portraying phsyical aspects of an item in the digital world?

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