Saturday, April 17, 2010

Remembrances: The Reporter – Part 1: The Archives


Space is always the issue in an archives; specifically, shelf-space. Even though from this time forward much that is archived for posterity will be preserved digitally, boxes of paper records will continue to be carted into the archives of the world for decades to come. A Distinguished Professor retires, or dies with his tweeds on, and it is as though a cosmic lever were flipped and a trapdoor thrown open. A huge mass of paper, crammed more or less randomly into manila folders, themselves crammed more or less randomly into cardboard boxes—all of it indifferently labeled—is funneled into the archives with a great WHOOSH.

When the dust has settled, it is necessary for somebody to put it all into indexed order, for use down time’s weary road by the archives’ only patron: the Researcher of the Future.

In point of fact, it is often decades before an accessioned collection receives even preliminary attention. To “accession” a set of records is to take possession of those records; to sign on for their care and feeding for the duration. It is, in a sense, not unlike adopting a child. But there is a dark side to archiving that is not available to the foster parent—deaccession. (Well, it wasn’t available until that woman in Tennessee sent that kid back to Mother Russia alone with a note pinned to his shirt.)

But I digress. Cue the shark music from Jaws and let’s get on with it:

Deaccessioning is a matter as dire as defenestration. It is a matter more grave to be deaccessioned than it is to be defrocked. For the deaccessioned all is finito; the merely defrocked will live to grope again. To be deaccessioned is to be torn from the security of the only shelf you can remember, from the snug and cozy eyrie where you spent many months and years, safe and sound in your warm, dry box. It is to be tossed with extreme prejudice into time’s oubliette. It is to find yourself suddenly stacked with mere trash on a damp, dark loading dock, awaiting the arrival of the Grim Shredder’s recycling truck. It is the end of the road.

Only once in a blue moon does a set of deaccessioned materials fall into the hands of a compulsive human pack rat before the worst has happened. This is one such story.

It’s not a long one, but I will make it even shorter. A set of approximately 35 issues of the magazine The Reporter, marked for deaccession, came to my attention. And I snatched them up and gave them a new home. The earliest one is dated August 30, 1949. The last one in the collection is dated December 15, 1966. The magazine covers current events--both political and cultural--during a period of history in which I was a toddler, child, and adolescent. There is much that I can learn from perusing the pages of this cache of liberal journalism from the past. It is my intention to share, from time to time, some of the insights thus gleaned here at Rodak Riffs.