The Wildly Growing Literature on Archives and Record

It used to be the case that keeping current with the professional and scholarly literature on archives, records, and related issues meant keeping track of a few journals, the publishing programs of professional associations, and a modest array of professional and scholarly publishers. That is no longer the case, as can be seen by book advertisements in the recent issue (September/October/November 2016) of BookForum. Below is a brief assessment of some interesting publications featured in this issue, mindful of the fact that I have not actually read any of these books.

English publisher Prestel is releasing in October (in the United States, November) John Z. Komurki, ed., Stationery Fever: From Paperclips to Pencils and Everything in Between, another homage to our love with paper and our increasing interest in collecting the artifacts from earlier information ages. The publisher’s website states, “Stationery Fever showcases the plethora of retro and fine office goods being produced and sold around the world. Organized like your favorite stationery store—pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers, greeting cards, school supplies, etc.—it features exquisitely photographed objects that transcend the decades since laptops took over most of our office needs. Each chapter highlights distinct objects and features a store that specializes in that category. Along the way, readers will learn the history of the lined notebook, the proper way to sharpen a pencil, and the story of how postcards came to be.”

Book burning, the deliberate destruction of texts, has had a long and infamous history. The University of Chicago Press recently published Kenneth Baker’s On the Burning of Books: How Flames Fail to Destroy the Written Word. It is a testament to the resilience of texts, even in an age when we persistently predict the end of the print book. The publisher’s description provides a glimpse into the rich history of such activities: “In On the Burning of Books, Baker explores famous moments throughout history when books have been burnt for political, religious, or personal reasons. Included among his investigations are stories from ancient China to the Nazis, from George Orwell’s Animal Farm to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, from Chairman Mao to the Spanish destruction of the Aztec civilization. Baker describes Samuel Pepys burning an erotic novel, and the personal fires of Lord Byron’s memoirs, Dickens’s letters, Hardy’s poems, and Philip Larkin’s diaries. Alongside these many examples are chapters on accidental book burning—and even lucky escapes.”

MIT Press, long a publisher of important books on information science and technology, recently released a volume on the symbolism of libraries edited by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin. According to the publisher, “Fantasies of the Library lets readers experience the library anew. The book imagines, and enacts, the library as both keeper of books and curator of ideas–as a platform of the future.” “The book includes an essay on the institutional ordering principles of book collections; a conversation with the proprietors of the Prelinger Library in San Francisco; reflections on the role of cultural memory and the archive; and a dialogue with a new media theorist about experiments at the intersection of curatorial practice and open source ebooks. The reader emerges from this book-as-exhibition with the growing conviction that the library is not only a curatorial space but a bibliological imaginary, ripe for the exploration of consequential paginated affairs.” This is a reminder that the library, along with the printed book, is not dead or useless even in the digital era.

The pervasiveness and significance of writing is the subject of a new book from the University of Toronto Press. Laurence de Looze, The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World examines “how the alphabet has served as a lens through which we conceptualize the world and how the world, and sometimes the whole cosmos, has been perceived as a kind of alphabet itself. Beginning with the ancient Greeks, he traces the use of alphabetic letters and their significance from Plato to postmodernism, offering a fascinating tour through Western history.”

So, the historical perspective and the sense of the value of texts and documents remains vibrant, at least in terms of scholarship, even if in many iSchools and library and information science programs it seems otherwise.

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