Sunday, June 07, 2009

Book Review: "Personal Archives and a New Archival Calling"

Richard J. Cox's Personal Archives and a New Archival Calling: Readings, Reflections and Ruminations (Litwin Books, 2008) is one archivist's take on the state of the field. Cox is one of the most thoughtful and always-worth-reading archivists out there, and this extended essay on the role of personal archives is certainly one that should be examined closely by those of us who continue to face every day the challenges wrought by recent technological and societal shifts.

Cox argues that as technology and a record-keeping impulse seems to be propelling people to create and maintain personal archives, professional archivists should be prepared to engage with the public in real, meaningful ways - assisting them in the retention and preservation of personal and family documents, and coming to grips with the ways in which blogs, digital photography and other digital forms will impact both personal archives and institutional collections.

This wide-ranging book reveals Cox's vast knowledge of contemporary authors and their writings. He quotes and examines everyone from Derrida to David Weinberger, Simon Worrall to Sven Birkerts, Paul Collins to Robert Darnton and Anthony Grafton. His bibliography runs to more than forty pages, and one would do well to mine it for a very useful reading list.

A timely, necessary look at the archival world as it is, and a positive prescription for how it could be.