Horrifying, isn't it? No one's sure what's stored in the archives, or worse, they don't want anyone else to know and don't care what they're holding. Classic example: WQED in Pittsburgh (as well as the Braddock Library.) Ancient, historical, archival material, fascinating old recordings, videos, books -- but do they care? No, and furthermore, THEY SURE DON'T WANT YOU OR ME OR ANYONE ELSE TO LOOK AT IT OR TOUCH IT.
I'm struggling to hold a rant at bay, really I am, but all the many times I've heard, and offered, along with friends and professional COLLEAGUES of archivists, to help them sort and catalogue their collections, arrange and make them available to look at/listen to if they can't be sold, bartered, or borrowed -- forget it. WQED Pittsburgh has an entire basement vault of records from 78's to LP's to reel-to-reel tapes which has been locked away since 2001. They're never again going to hold the annual record sales they used to every year, although they scream constantly for money and pledge 3 weeks out of the month both on the radio and television. (Hey, do other PBS stations do this? Does YOUR PBS station do this as often as ours?)
In 2000 I telephoned them to ask what is to become of "all those records locked away." "Nothing," snapped the woman answering the phone. "They're just going to remain down there. We're not making them available."
So what purpose does that serve?
And don't get me started on the first Carnegie Library ever in Pittsburgh, Braddock, built in 1889. Not only do they keep their archives (mostly consisting of long out of circulation books) out of sight and reach, periodically they THROW THEM AWAY, but we're NOT allowed to touch them, look at them, purchase them, let alone borrow them. "You can't have that! That's for the dumpster!" is on the lips of every librarian employed there, no matter what one offers to pay or how earnestly one begs them to have a book sale. One day a very kindly custodian at the back entrance 6 years ago surreptitiously allowed my husband and me to sort through those forbidden "dumpster books" and take what we wanted. (original books - also 1889 - on the Johnstown flood, some Maurice Materlinck, and some wonderful pulpy old contemporary-at-the-time 1930's novels, in case any of you are wondering) I imagine if one of the librarians had caught this nice custodian she would have shot him dead on the spot.
Am I nuts, or do any of you agree with me that this is a crime? Do YOUR local public libraries, public radio stations, university archives or community museums pull stunts like this? I realize not everything can be put on display and of course "not just anyone" can handle and listen to rare old items, but to lock it up in some obscure vault to never bother with again, or worse yet, throw it away while forbidding it to the very people who are offering to help with the discards?
Go ahead and check up on this for me if you want. This is not some belligerent outburst or paranoid imagining. I've crept into those back rooms in Braddock with an out of town friend on a library tour, and everyone in the community who collects records knows what QED has in their basement, as well as their own staff confirming it. One just doesn't know where to begin to rectify this, and it's enough to make any collector cry in disgust and despair.