Paper and digital archives – preserving the present for the future

Germaine Greer, the author and academic, has sold her personal archive for £1.8million.  She is to donate the proceeds to support a rainforest charity.

The archive will be housed by the University of Melbourne in Australia and contains over 150 filing cabinet drawers of correspondence, manuscripts, videos and audio tapes, lecture notes, letters and diaries. Over the years, Greer has corresponded with some of the key thinkers, politicians, writers and actors of the age (Margaret Atwood, Indira Gandhi, Warren Beatty).

Germaine Greer herself has said about archives that they are “the paydirt of history… Everything else is opinion. At a certain point you actually need documents.”

The University of Melbourne archivist (Dr Katrina Dean) said that Greer’s archive had been “meticulously maintained” and some of the correspondence represented “a rich vein of social history on social, sexual and intellectual challenges and changes”.

In a piece for the Independent newspaper (31st October 2013), author Simon Garfield wonders whether this is the last of the great ‘paper-based’ author archives.  Salman Rushdie’s archive, which has been held at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia since 2010, is a mixture of digital and hard copy files.

The University of Melbourne is working to ensure Greer’s archives are available to future researchers and academics.  In 2012/13 the British Library was contemplating the 100 websites it felt should be preserved for future generations.  The websites it chose to preserve would somehow provide a state of the nation/way we live now resource of inestimable value to future researchers and historians.

One of the sites chosen was Blipfoto, a photo journal website which encourages members to take and save one photo a day – with accompanying explanatory text. The website now holds thousands of authentic pictures and stories.  It is, as Hazel Hall has written “…a collective record of human history”. It is images with context and meaning, which sets the site apart from the millions of images being saved (with no metadata) every day on other social media sites.

For a visual of how the size of curated photo collections compare with the mass of photographs on Facebook see the wonderful photograph taken by Starr Hoffman of the CEO of Blipfoto speaking at Internet Librarian International. 

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About Val Skelton

I am the editor of Information Today, Europe. On the main site, we cover news and publish feature articles by information, research and knoweldge practitioners and thought leaders. On this blog, we aim to cover other topics of interest to our readers.

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