I’m looking forward to heading to Penn State’s Center for Humanities and Information next week for their annual conference, Information + Humanities. The schedule is available online and, I have to admit, my anticipatory excitement betrays a new level of geekiness for me. All the titles look great. I’ve followed a lot of these folks from afar and am looking forward to an opportunity to interact in person. I’m including my abstract below the diagrams of a 1909 book stack at the Library of Congress.
The Bulk of Knowledge: Collection Management at the Library of Congress
Archival theory has shown how our institutions for conserving historical memory operate, necessarily, by negation, exclusion, loss, even amnesia. As Eric Ketelaar writes, “The memory of man and of society cannot retain all: they both can only remember some things, by forgetting a lot.” The specter of archival exclusion looms over collection building in the form of an unruly abundance. All those materials our collections cannot contain represent a profusion of information that exceeds control, memory, and theorization. This paper attempts to apprehend that abundance by examining the work to build a comprehensive collection at the Library of Congress. Recalibrating archival theory to weigh a collection’s bulk rather than its paucity will better prepare us to recognize problems related to infrastructure, personnel, and the materiality of information management.