January 09, 2007

Photo Organizing Tips: What to Keep?

Contrary to popular belief, archivists do not keep everything. In fact, one of my archival professors used this memorable rhyme: "When in doubt, throw it out!"

When I tell people this I usually get a surprised look.

An archivist? Throwing things out?

Yep. I'd be willing to bet I spent more time learning the art of archival appraisal than any other skill while in grad school. But aren't archivists the keepers of our shared history? Yes, but...

Here is the undeniable reality: If historical societies kept every single item that landed on their doorstep....every cancelled check... every unidentified photograph... every duplicate map… there simply wouldn't be any room left for new collections. And that won’t work in the long run, will it? Hardly.

The same holds true for your family archive, but it's a little different. When a collection stays in the family, the sentimental value is extremely important. I’m a mom myself, so I understand how difficult it can be to part with sentimental treasures like baby pictures, finger paintings, pinch pots and teeny tiny little clothes.

If you keep everything you'll have an uncontrollable mess on your hands. Your grandkids are not going to want to keep all of your vacation slides. On the other hand, they would probably love to have a handful of photographs of you having fun on vacation. You can choose to leave them everything or you can make some careful selections now.

When teaching folks how to purge a large chaotic photo collection, I like to use a fine wine analogy. You can read the article I wrote on this exact topic on my website.

P.S. If you're thinking about joining us for our half day photo organizing workshop in Madison later this month, you'll want to check out two special offers that are good only through Friday, January 12th. Cheers!


Archivalist said...

I still remember in graduate school in my first semester Archives I class when our instructor told us that in state government (where he worked) about 90 percent of all documents end up getting destroyed, never seeing the archives. I was shocked! But man, was he right!

mary_m said...

Sally, this is great - super helpful! All of my photos are in drugstore envelopes, including the ones from Brady's and my honeymoon... 6 years ago. Even some of our wedding photos are still in boxes.

I have avoided the task because it truly never occurred to me that it was okay to throw away my family photographs.

With this new information in hand, the idea of putting together a photo album, etc. sounds like fun because I'll actually *like* the finished product. Because I was NOT excited about putting together an album of indistinguishable landscapes, people standing in front of things, and people eating.

Love your blog!