Why I Keep Non-Archival Items in my Scrapbook

Big Game Football Scrapbook Layout by Natalie Parker

This question has popped up a few times over the years and I haven’t addressed it directly in a post.  I use a lot of ephemera in my scrapbooks.  Ephemera isn’t acid or lignin free or “archival.”  I get questions about if I pre-treat these items or why even include them in the first place.

The short answer:  because I value the ephemera more, everything’s a tradeoff, nothing is really totally archival anyway, and all paper will eventually deteriorate.

The Long Answer

I’m presently in graduate school training to be an archivist.  I’ve taken several classes on collecting information, organizing it, and on the preservation of paper and other materials. You can read several posts sharing what I’ve learned along the way and how it relates to the everyday scrapbooker here.

Does my future degree make me more qualified to speak on this subject?  I don’t think so but I believe it’s given me some valuable perspective about what I do at home.

The first lesson I learned in my first class in graduate school was that everything has a tradeoff.  If you organize information in a more detailed way, you trade off the time it takes you to do that.  If you do less organization, you trade off the time you spend to find something later.

Whether or not I include non-archival items is a tradeoff.  I believe the value of having the items in the scrapbook outweighs their eventual deterioration.  I want to see the articles about my husband’s water polo coach.  I want my kids to see newspapers from 9/11.

All paper will deteriorate eventually.*  It’s a bit sobering.  I’m not under some delusion that my scrapbooks will end up in an archive somewhere.  If I get to show them to my kids and grandkids, I’m cool with that.  If something happens to them after I’m gone, I won’t be around to know about it.

Archivists make tradeoffs every single day.  I’ve visited many archives and archivists over the last few years.  Archives aren’t beacons of perfection.  Archivists every day have to make the best decisions they can using the resources they have.  It’s a good lesson for the scrapbooker:  it can’t be perfect.

Why don’t I pre treat non-archival items?  Two reasons.  First, an archivist would put the newspaper in the best environment to keep it safe but not actually change it.  I’m also not convinced that stuff actually works.  Second, I’m lazy and don’t feel like it’s worth the time.  I’ve seen 50+ year old scrapbooks full of newspapers on my tours through archives and they are holding up pretty well.  If mine make it 50 years, I’ll be happy.

Do you have to take the same route as me?  Not at all.  Do what makes you feel comfortable.  However, I hope this helps with perspective.  Do you still worry about non-archival items in your scrapbook?  Please share below.

*Digital media deteriorates much much faster than paper, so scrapbooks are still preferable.  Read more detail about the deterioration of paper and media here.


At the Personal Digital Archiving Conference, Again

Personal Digital Archiving Conference at NYU by Natalie Parker

On my way home from my month in London, I put on my grad student hat and stopped in New York City to attend the 2015 Personal Digital Archiving Conference.

This is the second year I’ve attended (see my thoughts from last year here).  In addition to being a huge boost to listen to people studying the same issues I am, I always hear so many good thoughts applicable to scrapbookers.

I’ve gone over my notes and picked out some interesting things.

Big Thoughts

These are paraphrased from my notes and are not actual quotes.

Don Perry: We need to be considering the archives we are creating now as things people in the future will look to to understand the past.  The impetus for taking the photograph today is the same as in 1840 when someone sat in a studio to make a daguerreotype. It is to capture something.  The photograph is a distilled version of one persons heart.

Jessica Bushey: The smartphone is the preferred device for taking photos. The function of photos is shifting from a snapshot to remember or to create a permanent record to a digital trace that communicates an experience that is quickly consumed and forgotten.

While on the surface it seems like Perry and Bushey disagree with each other, I don’t think that’s the case.  While I do think that more of today’s photos are ephemeral (do you want the picture I took of a price tag at Target?), I think at least some of the photos we take today will fit Perry’s definition as we age.

Julie Swierczek: There is too much emphasis on big data and not enough small scale description.  It doesn’t matter how many millions of women describe themselves as mothers on Facebook.  But, if you talked to a handful of mothers, that would be interesting.  Don’t forget the personal.

Swierczek’s comments about small scale really resonated with me.  Sometimes I wonder what’s the point of my scrapbooking when I’m just one person in this huge world.  She reminded me that stories on a small scale matter.

Other Bits

Todd Wemmer emphasized audio in memory keeping.  He played a clip of his kids playing at the beach that he said he wouldn’t trade for all his photos.  They weren’t even my kids and I was very moved by the experience of listening to them.  Listen to clips he’s collected of all sorts of people here.  It’s amazing to hear people tell their stories.

Sarah Severson showed us how she used Picasa and WordPress to create an online family archive.  I was totally blown away and need to get on this!

Joel Neville Anderson shared the Photohoku project with us, an effort to provide photographs and albums to people who lost everything in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan.  The idea is to help people restart their family albums.

So much good stuff here!

In addition to being a scrapbooker and a traveler, I’m also studying to be an archivist.  I’m currently researching what regular people do with their photos.  To read more of my posts about archives for scrapbookers, click here.

What Do You Do with Your Photos?

Thesis Notebook and Notes by Natalie Parker

Three years ago, I became a graduate student.

I’m nearing the end of my journey to become an archivist / information scientist and I’ve shared small bits with you along the way.  I’m finished with my coursework and am working at how to top it all off so they’ll give me a diploma.  At this moment, I’m working on a research proposal.

Should I Write a Thesis?

A thesis isn’t mandatory to finish my program, but I found a topic that I’m really curious about.  I never ever ever thought I would be interested in original research.

A thesis is a lot of work.  That work would take me from this space more often and prevent me from doing other projects and things in my personal life.  Being constrained by school these last three years really makes me grumpy, no matter what I’m studying.  It hasn’t been easy — I am still working full time, pursuing my creative passions, and committing to writing here.

On the other hand, I am really interested in this topic and I feel like not pursuing it would be shortchanging myself.  Who knows where it will lead?  Not doing something because it’s hard isn’t the person I want to be.

What’s the Topic?

I’ve been studying personal digital archiving.  I want to study what people want to do with their photos.  I’ve done enough research to know that people are losing their digital belongings all the time.  But, research is starting to show that no matter how much we value these digital belongings and how much we know that we need to get organized so nothing gets lost, we aren’t doing anything about it.  In other words, you can’t shame someone into taking care of their stuff.  Saving everything doesn’t work either (at least not with current software).  I wonder if we can take a different approach and figure out what people want and taking that information to make the situation better.

What Does this Have to Do With the Blog?

I’ve been so amazed how everything I learn at school relates back to memory keeping.  You can even say my degree is in memory keeping.  I’ve shared what acid free paper means, the deterioration of paper, how the value of our memories is directly related to their accessibility, and more.  I’m going to keep taking bits and pieces and sharing them with you when I think they can help us learn how to be better memory keepers.

Plus, I’m trying to inject a little more of myself in this space.  I usually don’t talk about decisions until after they are made.  But, I figured I’d tell the internet so it would keep me honest when I decide.

Click here to read all of my archives-related posts.

Shades of Bayview

Shades of Bayview by Natalie Parker

I spent this weekend thumbing through other people’s memories.

Volunteering with the San Francisco Public Library’s Shades of Bayview project, I spoke with people about their photo collections and helped choose photos to scan and add to the Library’s collection.  The aim of the project is to create a permanent record of the daily lives of people in the city.  Sort of a huge scrapbook, if you will.

Shades of Bayview by Natalie Parker

A photo without a story is just an image.  Talking with someone about  the photo brings it to life.  The project gave us a chance not only to see some remarkable photos, but to understand what made them important.  It reminds me of how we lost Mr. P’s grandmother recently and how there are so many photos we’ll never understand.

They were hoping to get photos of everyday life.  The project leader commented that photos inside homes are rare in the photo archive.  It reminded me of how much more common documenting everyday life is now (with Project Life and such).  There is so much value in capturing “right now.”

This was a fantastic project.  The best photos we found weren’t of vacations, but just life.

At the Personal Digital Archiving Conference

Photos by Natalie Parker

I wear all sorts of hats.  Last week I put on my Master’s student hat and headed to Indianapolis to learn more about Personal Digital Archiving.

Why a conference on personal digital archiving?  There has been a lot of study about institutions (think universities, companies) taking care of their digital assets.  Not a lot of attention has been paid to how regular people manage their own digital assets.  Your digital assets are photographs, email, blog posts, bank statements, text messages, tweets, facebook records, videos, you name it!

As a scrapbooker studying archives, this subject is the perfect intersection for me!  The area of study is new and people at the conference were talking about how to define and address the problem.  What are people doing about their digital assets?  Do they care more about some digital items than others?  How to we let people know about resources that can help?

I met all sorts of great people!  I ran into another Master’s student/scrapbooker and we chatted about scrapbooking and her project to scan old family photos.  I chatted with a professor and someone from the Library of Congress about current trends in memory keeping — this included explaining what Project Life is and showing them examples of pocket page scrapbooking on my tablet.  I didn’t go to the conference thinking I was going to talk so much about scrapbooking, but the subjects are very intertwined.  Stephanie‘s dissertation on scrapbooking also came up.

What does all this mean?  I’m not sure yet but this is only the beginning for me on this subject.  I want to make sure I get out the word on some great resources I learned about that are geared toward regular people.

Do you have any questions on this subject?  Did you know people studied this?  Do you feel like you’ve got a handle on your digital belongings (it’s okay to say no, research shows most people don’t)?

A Photographic Estate

Old Camera

When someone passes away, tough choices are everywhere.  Including what to do with photos.  That is not the toughest choice in the grand scheme of things, but one that still needs to be made.

Someone has left us recently and I was chatting with family members about what to do with their photos.

There are boxes and boxes of photos saved but the majority of them aren’t described or don’t have notes about who is in them.  They made the decision if they don’t know any of the people in the photo, they are tossing it.

They will save the photos that are important to them.  I’m not necessarily opposed to that because what other option is there?  Are photos ephemeral?  Have they served their primary use during the lifetime of their original owners?

Have you had to go through someone else’s photo collection before?

Image from Cyler Parent via Creative Commons license.

The Different Ways We Keep Memories

FreeSTockPhotoPencils“The impulse to record, to collect, to store, and organize information is part of our nature as human beings.”Alyce Scott

Neat quote, isn’t it?  I’m taking a class from her this semester.

I’ve been thinking about the different ways we keep memories.  We are all memory keepers, we just each have our own way of doing it.

Some of us scrapbook.  Some of us use social media, some blog.   Some use oral history.

I started thinking about this when Mr. P and I were visiting some college friends.  It never fails when we are with this group — the same stories get told.  I could use a checklist to tick off each one as it happens each time we see each other.

The thing is, telling and retelling stories is just another way of storing information, of keeping memories.  In fact, keeping memories through oral history was the way things were done before us humans started writing things down.

Mr. P understands scrapbooking is my hobby and memory keeping is just something I have to do.  I understand to sit back and smile when it’s time for his stories.

What about you?  How do different people in your life keep their memories?

Image courtesy Rachael Smith via Creative Commons license.

The Fleeting Nature of Data

Scholarly Articles by Natalie Parker“Data that are not being used are not like books on a shelf or the family correspondence and photos stored in shoe boxes at the back of a closet. They are  more like the stacks of LPs or the 8mm family home movies in storage in a  basement. That is, digital information is not eyelegible: it is dependent on a  machine to decode and re-present the bit streams in images on a computer screen. Without that machine, and without active human intervention, those data will not last.”

I started school recently again — time for more academic thoughts!  I’ve harped before that the value of information is directly related to its accessibility.  This quote says what I’ve said before:  we need to get stuff off our hard drives so people can look at it.

Earlier: The Value of Information, Thinking About Paper and Scrapbooks

Source:  Smith, Abby. Why Digitize? Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, February 1999.

Personal Records

Personal Records by Natalie ParkerI just finished reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Ever heard of it?  It’s what the movie Lincoln was based on.

I can say many things about the book (you should read it), but what amazed me was the way people kept personal records back then.

Goodwin goes into incredible detail in the book – what people where thinking, what Lincoln’s countenance was during a meeting, what he decided and when he decided it, what his cabinet thought about those decisions and so much more.

How was she able to weave this story together?  Personal records.  People back then kept their letters and wrote in diaries and journals what they thought about things.  The end of the book has pages and pages of references to these personal papers.

This makes me think how fleeting our personal records are today.  The records Goodwin consulted are safely resting in historical societies, archives, or other similar cultural institutions.  Most of our personal information now is electronic.

Remember when I said that paper is sometimes a more reliable format than electronic?  Think about Goodwin’s book and where she got that information from.

Fun With Archival Theory

Scholarly Articles by Natalie ParkerI’m knee deep in readings for a summer class (learning even more about archives).  I’m always amused when I find bits of reading that are really applicable to scrapbooking.  Or is it that I have memory keeping on the brain all the time?

Here are some bits from my readings.  They relate to archival theory, but I think you will find them very pertinent:

… biography can only be captured — brought alive in the present — through placing its ‘single subject’ in relationship to other people.  (McKemmish, 2005 – paraphrasing biographer Richard Holmes)

What do I take from that?  Context matters.  The author was making an argument that records “live” and constantly take on more value as new records are placed with them.  The more context, the richer a record is.  You will always see me arguing for more context in scrapbooks.

Human beings are the sum of their memories.  The nature of their interaction with other humans, indeed their very identity, is determined by their memories. (Cunningham, 2005)

We tell stories for ourselves — to help keep us alive. (McKemmish, 2005 – quoting Thomas King)

I thought these bits were interesting because I always wonder sometimes why I’m compelled to scrapbook.  The truth is that we all keep memories in some form or another as part of the human experience.  I just choose to use this method.


Adrian Cunningham, “Archival Institutions,´in Sue McKemmish, Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed, and Frank Upward. Archives: Recordkeeping in Society. Wagga Wagga, N.S.W.: Charles Sturt University, 2005
Sue McKemmish, “Traces: Document, Record, Archive, Archives.” In Sue McKemmish,
Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed, and Frank Upward. Archives: Recordkeeping in Society. Wagga Wagga, N.S.W.: Charles Sturt University, 2005.
Sue McKemmish, Shannon Faulkhead, and Lynette Russell. “Distrust in the Archives:
Reconciling Records.” Archival Science 11, no. 3/4 (2011): 211-239.