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We might be able to keep “everything,” but what about finding it again?

November 9, 2015

Last week’s library column asked, “And who doubts what you read in the paper?” Payback for my sophomoric wit came Friday when the paper reported the library’s current brick repair project cost $56,000.

What’s an extra zero between friends?

Then the column went on to mention an abduction at gunpoint nearly a hundred years ago outside the Sherman Hotel at 1st and G streets, saying “I don’t think it’s so rough a neighborhood now.” So wry.

Except that last Monday morning, the very corner of 1st and G was a crime scene—the corner office of the old Sherman Hotel was burglarized in the night and a valuable collection of guitars and equipment was stolen.

If only there’d been a late-night witness, such as happened a few weeks ago when the library was vandalized and the two males responsible (as opposed to responsible men) were caught red-handed—literally, with the red graffiti paint on their hands.

This denouement almost made it worth spending two pre-dawn hours cleaning up the broken glass scattered around the computer room. In fact, it was not unpleasant being out in the otherwise peaceful night, and I felt very fond of the officers up at that hour quietly and diligently attending to absurd human behavior.

One day, this will all be local history, perhaps getting curiouser and curiouser but most likely remaining all too familiar even by the time it makes the paper’s “100 Years Ago Today.”

The library’s digital archives mentioned last week are almost entirely of things physically owned in the library’s archive room—photos and papers donated to the archive or that have somehow found their way there.

The library’s archive is dedicated to preserving artifacts of local history—papers, photos, books, the marginalia of local life—and to making it accessible, which now involves digital access.

There’s a lot more of local history in the drawers and attics of Salida, and perhaps you’d like to make it accessible, too, but it’s also too beloved to give away. Consider a digital donation—allowing the library to digitize the photos, old letters, etc., and granting a digital release for their use while keeping the physical items in your possession.

It’s always hard to know what the future will want. And even in a digital world, we can’t keep everything. We might be able to keep “everything,” but what about finding it again? Cataloging—metadata—is vital to future retrieval, and this eventually involves human interaction. What’s called, in some circles, labor.

I just finished reading a remarkable book that is a result of much labor using archives which, although post-World War II, are among the last of their kind.

The book is “Make peace before the sun goes down: the long encounter of Thomas Merton and his abbott, James Fox.” Merton’s journals were eventually published in the decades after his death, but these presented only one side of a quietly stormy relationship.

Thomas Merton was a prolific writer, and much of his communication from behind abbey walls was necessarily by letter, and these are preserved in many places. Roger Lipsey used archives from the Abbey of Gethsemane, Kentucky, and from the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Lexington to correlate letters among a variety of people to chart the relationship and conflicts between the two men.

It is history as its best. If you have been moved by Thomas Merton—his writings or his life—I think you will be fascinated by this book. Yes, your local library has a copy.

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