Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Musings on Microform, Or, I have proof that that Internet is an incomplete archive.

The Bookcharmer has, for some weeks, been away from the stacks and confined to the reels. Reels of microform, specifically the papers of photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, a contemporary and acquaintance of my research interest, Clara Elizabeth Laughlin. It has been a particular delight to find on the microfilm (notice use of words "delight" and "microfilm" in same sentence) letters from a youthful and exuberent CEL to FBJ regarding trips to New York. My heartfelt thanks to the Library of Congress librarian who put together the finding aid to these papers, as Johnston's papers required 37 reels of microfilm to archive.

I have 3 reels of the 37 on loan and I must return them soon. Using microform is rather like putting on a pair of glasses that are no longer the correct prescription when you have misplaced your current glasses or are out of contact lenses--everything is still there, but only visible through a glare-y fog that quickly gives you a headache. But the headache is worth it, particularly if the items you are viewing are not digitized and only available a continent away.

(An aside on digitizing--must individual researchers bear the cost of digitizing archives? I will not point online fingers at specific institutions just now, but really, 50 dollars an hour for scanning and uploading???)

I share with you a delicious sentence, unrelated to CEL, written by a Mr. Henry in defense of Frances Benjamin Johnston, who had an unhappy conversation with and was unfairly treated by a Howard Marston. In a letter dated January 16, 1906, Mr. Henry wrote, "My friend, Miss Johnston, whom I unwittingly introduced into your fold, thinking I was doing you both a friendly service, has sent me copies of the rather astounding correspondence between you. I enclose you a copy of my letter to her. I shall be pleased to meet you in any backyard you may designate, and determine who is the gentleman."

Would that we all had such a champion as Mr. Henry!

1 comment:

Furious Buddha said...

That is a truly amazing sentence but you should know that I would be happy to challenge any cad to backyard fisticuffs on your behalf!

Teh internets are a sadly incomplete archive. I despair of the knowledge that is lost, which is one of the reasons why librarians are my favorite people. I hope you are doing well!