Today's Chronicle of Higher Education features an interview [subscription required] with Thomas Staley, the director of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.
Staley discusses the ideas behind HRC's major acquisitions of archival collections, particularly those of living writers: "The point is, we believe that this is a living place. And that's a difference. This is not just a library. This is a center for learning that radiates its research all over. But also inside the university, it's a wonderful, wonderful place to study. Writers are not coming here because they're pushing a book or anything like that. Writers are aware of us because writers talk to other writers. They know this place is serious."
The interview also touches on one of the most controversial of HRC's practices - buying archives of British writers and removing those materials to the U.S. Staley says "I think part of their argument, and it's a good argument, is to say we're losing things across because we're not supporting them, and these brigands or these vultures are here. What they're raising isn't simply 'Stop Texas.' It's 'For godsakes, get some sort of program where we can preserve our heritage.'"
Another interesting answer came in response to a question about digitization: "There are all kinds of things in digitization that you can't reproduce. In the Joyce proofs, we have people who can tell you, even if it's just a printers' sign or an editor's sign, whether it was Sylvia Beach or Joyce, because of the ink. You don't get that in the digitized version. There's the quality of the paper. The smell of certain things that is very important. The olfactory elements. ..."