Last week we fortunately found more acid-free folders, so I got to continue on my project with the correspondence files. Because the actual work itself is basically the same that I have been doing, I thought I would focus this post on some of the thoughts I’ve had about the practice of retaining correspondence by archives and special collections. Many of the files that I’ve been working with only contain one letter or card, and of these the vast majority are dated from the 1960s. I’ve been through countless files that are responses from authors where I can infer that Dr. de Grummond had requested manuscripts or other material from the authors or illustrators and the letters in the files are negative responses. Authors tend to promise their collections to their alma maters or another school that is significant to them in some way, and they therefore don’t have the ability to promise the material to de Grummond. Other files also contain information that seems somewhat superfluous or unreasonable kept. For instance I found one file that only had an empty envelope in it. I assume it was kept for the address, but this doesn’t seem to be the most efficient use of space.
The thing that makes me curious about this is wondering how you know what to keep. We didn’t really talk about this kind of thing in class, so I’m wondering what the guidelines for this are. I’m not sure how any particular archive or special collection decides what is important for it to keep, and I assume that the decision is made on an individual institution basis, but I don’t know you would go about making that decision. I know there are things in the de Grummond files that I wouldn’t have kept.
The other thought that I’ve had in regards to the correspondence files is to feel sad that the current staff doesn’t have the time to focus on correspondence like the staff did in the past. This is mostly due to the increasing number of commitments which the staff has to focus on, rather than seeking out new donors and correspondents. It seems like the heavy time periods of correspondence were at the beginning of the collection when Dr.de Grummond heavily sought after contributors and the 1990s when one of the previous curators sent out a lot of correspondence. A lot of these are Christmas cards or personal letters. (This is another example of something that might should be kept in perhaps another format or perhaps a set of files together denoted by the curator’s name.)