Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Response to Review of "Cultural Heritage Collaborators"

It pays to "Google" yourself sometimes.

Last night, I found this review of my book "Cultural Heritage Collaborators."

I have written a lengthy response to its author, which I would like to share here:

Thank you Kevin for your thoughtful response to my book. I am especially glad to hear that your first response to it was that you need to hang out with archivists more. J

I would like to address some of your points if you will let me. You raise interesting ones.

First off, you are not reading too much into the title. Heritage belongs to everyone and the book intends to help people recognize this.  The responsibility of maintaining cultural heritage belongs to the community, not to one single voice (as you so nicely put it.) If people get nothing else out of my writing, I hope that they understand that.

I have addressed the reason why I self-published in this blog post that may (or may not) interest you. http://archivesinfo.blogspot.com/2010/08/self-publishing-experience.html . To address your specific points: The word archives was capitalized when I was referring to an institution or place as in the Archives. It was not capitalized when I was discussing documents. It should be that way throughout the book. My editor read it with an eye toward that after I explained it to her and I think I explained it somewhere in the book, but it has come up since publication. I may have to find a way to change it if I ever write a second edition. It was my intention to do that to help avoid confusion, but it seems I have created confusion instead.  I noticed the missing text on page 17 too late and that too will be fixed if enough people buy the book so I can go back and revise it. Tightening up…I have nothing to say about that. Everything any one writes can be tightened over and over and over again. There comes a time when one has to stop. As for the margins, I think I have moved closer toward a better solution in my latest book (released last week,) but I’m still not there. I have used my small budget on a professional editor and am working out design issues myself. In the latest book, I have already spotted errors in fonts and a few missing things in the Table of Contents. (Maybe I can start a game: Find Melissa’s errors and win a prize. I think I’m just kidding about that…but maybe it’s not a bad idea?)

I purposely left out digitization. I mentioned this in the self publishing blog post and after re-reading it, I realize that I did so rather cavalierly. Digitization is an important topic and is one which many of my colleagues are writing about very thoughtfully and thoroughly. I did not feel I could add anything profound. Furthermore, digitization naturally invites collaboration and I want to see this play itself out more. Then, I may have something more profound to say. And lastly, in my own defense, the principles of “collecting” digitized materials remain basically the same. One should collect with an eye toward focus.  For example, one would not collect the digitized records of a famous person if that figure had no ties to your institution or community.

However, this is a topic that has been growing in my brain. We are most assuredly moving toward a digital world and there are things I left out that need to be addressed. This is what I’m thinking about: 1. Should we be collecting and keeping everything in a digital world? Do the same appraisal techniques always apply? How would we fine tune them? 2. For the most part, the collaboration I’ve seen for digital has involved collaborative access and not collection development.  How should one think about collaborative community documentation of digital files? I don’t think we are yet at the cross-roads in terms of technology where we can know the answer to this. Going back to the idea of ownership of cultural heritage or your wording about a single voice…I wonder for how long an institution will be a place to hold archives in a digital form or will it all one day be held in a place like “the cloud?”

I hope that you are pleased to know that I have a whole chapter dedicated to digital in my recently published book, “The Unofficial Family Archivist.” (Shameless plug, but relevant.) I do think we can and must begin thinking about this form of documentation, even if we can’t quite think of it in a collaborative collection development framework yet. On a repository level, I am particularly fascinated by the Salmon Rushdie archives at Emory University. Rushdie donated his computers to the University and they have done a remarkable job of figuring out what to do with it. My book talks about this and other examples of “personal papers” in digital form. The thrust of the publication though is on what an individual (non-professional) should do with his/her own personal documentation.

Finally, “To discern truth from reality” was admittedly written during a time when I was feeling frustrated with some things that were being said on a national political level. Admittedly, “discern truth and reality” is a bit corny. I agree with you.

Thank you again. I’m glad that you found the book worthwhile. Thank you also for sharing your thoughts and for allowing me to share mine. Now I’m going to track you down and follow you on Twitter!



  1. Hey Melissa,

    Thanks for your response to my review of your book. Now I'll add my response to your response:)

    First, thanks for the link to your post about the history of writing, and self-publishing this book - that was helpful.

    And to place my review in a bit of context. My intent with what I write on my blog is not to write "professional literature" but to engage in something more along the lines of bar-room banter on topics preservation. A book review I write on my blog, will look quite different from a book review I would write for professional literature. I don't mean to imply I don't mean what I say on my blog, but only to suggest what I write on my blog should be taken with a few grains of salt (and a shot of tequila.)

    I look forward to reading your latest book - especially as I seem to be taking on the role of family archivist in my own family.

    Thanks for your response and keep up the great work.

  2. I think that all blogs should be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps some tequila (but I prefer my tequila in a margarita.) I am much more informal in my blog than other places I write, -- for better or for worse. Thanks again Kevin. I look forward to following you on Twitter.