The Archive Conundrum

We have become such a society of “archivers” that there is an abundance of information floating out there about ourselves. Our tweets and Facebook posts offer little snippets of our lives that are seemingly insignificant when looking at all of us collectively.  Do your tweets belong in an archive? Probably not, but since there is so much documentation out there, scholars have begun to argue what exactly deserves to be in an archive.

One side believes that some of the materials which have been deemed appropriate are actually not legitimate contributions to an archive. Such items include romance novels, comic books, and video games.  The other side argues that we should be putting these “silly” things in an archive because they are part of what makes us, us.  I think that the most interesting perspective on this debate comes from Greetham who states that we want to portray the best side of ourselves to those who follow.  We want to preserve ideal representations of our culture.  Of course this makes sense when understanding why archivists have problems with romance novels and comics.  These items are not the most intelligent, scholarly works of our time, but do they have no significance at all? I believe that they do have significance because they are a huge part of our culture. Not archiving them would be like saying these were never published, and that simply is not true. The whole point of archiving is allowing future generations can find the “truth”. This is done so the future can build off of the past, but if the past isn’t represented in its entirety, the future won’t be able to learn from it.

Obviously though, there is a need to determine what is significant from an over-abundance of material, but Greetham states it best when he says that any criteria for selection can be problematic and lead to biases. Biases, again, are detrimental to archiving, so it is best to avoid putting restrictions on material.   I think that the concept of the archive is being over-thought, and this is where the discourse comes from. Archive is such an ambiguous term in itself, and has become a loose signifier for a lot things.  If we can’t even agree upon what it truly is, how can we agree upon what should be in it?

JK

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