Books that feature archives or archivists

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Books that feature archives or archivists

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Aug 14, 2007, 9:13am

Have you read anything lately that features an archives or an archivist? Did it seem accurate, did it use "dusty" clich/es? Was it a good read anyway?

To start us off, I recently had to read (somewhat out of my comfort zone) The Historian for my bookclub. It features some "librarians" who work in special collections or archives. The plot follows a love story and a father-daughter relationship, with the librarians and various bad guys moving the action along. Author Kostova clearly loves special collections, but tends to romanticize. Of course, important clues are discovered in ancient mss, but at least she doesn't pretend that the historians "discovered" the materials; she gives librarians their due for collecting, cataloging and preserving them.

Edited: Aug 20, 2007, 6:47pm

I actually enjoyed Angels & Demons by Dan Brown which features a part taking place in the Vatican Archives. No idea how much is accurate, but I was properly devastated when large sections were destroyed as a result of the dramatic happenings.

Aug 21, 2007, 2:06pm

Steve Berry also has archives scenes in The Romanov Phophecy and The Third Secret. Like Angels and Demons, The Third Secret involves the Vatican Archives.

Aug 27, 2007, 8:23pm

The only book I can think of which featured archives much was The Stolen Child. I read it thinking, oh, how unusual - archives feature in the plot... and then when I got to the back flap, I found out that Keith Donohue is an archivist.

I know someone who's writing a novel in which archives feature - I'm hoping to be a beta reader, because she isn't an archivist, although I have faith she'll get it right as her field is literary history.

Aug 28, 2007, 7:42am

The Archivist by Martha Cooley obviously come to mind ...

Sep 4, 2007, 3:58pm

Sep 4, 2007, 8:41pm

And....? Did these books treat archives and archivists realistically? Did they throw around stereotypes about dust? Should they go on the archivists' bookshelf of pleasure reading?

Sep 5, 2007, 8:22am

It's been a loooong time since I read it, but I recall The archivist by Martha Cooley as being a pretty good book, although the archivist of the title is to some extent a stereotype of an archivist ... among the things he's in charge of are some T.S. Eliot letters and part of the plot involves the difficulties he puts in place to keep a researcher away from them ... it's worth a read, especially if you're at all into Eliot ...

Sep 8, 2007, 7:13pm

Thirding (or fourthing?) The Archivist by Martha Cooley. I also enjoyed The Librarian by Larry Beinhart which, despite the title, actually is about a guy who works as an archivist! Political and funny, I recommend it.

Nov 8, 2007, 12:36pm

Our faculty book club chose The Missing Professor An Academic Mystery for this month. Twice the main character visits the archives, in the library. While she finds helpful materials, we never meet the Archivist. The person assisting her is a "new librarian", who can't find the 1981 oral histories and then says, "We have a load of stuff I haven't catalogued, gathering dust in the storage room." (ACK!) (page 63)

It gets worse! When she goes back (and they're flipping through photographs) this happens: "Polly returned from the storage room with a metal box labeled "1981-interview tapes." Judging by the dust-covered box and the strands of ancient spider webs affixed to the back of Polly's sweater, no one had touched the container for years." (pg 66)

Later, her co-hort returns to the Univ. Archives where "he'd discovered that all but Professor R--- tape had deteriorated to the point where understanding proved impossible." He either has a copy or has taken the tape from the Archives because they listen to it in the main character's home. (page 75)

I made it a point to bring up at the Faculty Book Club meeting, my displeasure with the description of the Archives. Don't know why all Archives in books or articles must be described as "dusty". I challenge anyone to find cobwebs or dust in my stacks. We have a rigorous cleaning schedule.

Nov 8, 2007, 2:46pm

>"We have a load of stuff I haven't catalogued,
>gathering dust in the storage room." (ACK!)

This isn't usual? I've interned in two very different archives (in a genealogical and a university library) and a manuscripts department (in the same university library), and all of them have had massive backlogs that they just didn't have the staff to handle in a timely manner. I'd sort of assumed that backlogs of material were a matter of course....

Nov 10, 2007, 10:32pm

Backlog - definitely! But how much of your backlog is referenced to researchers (that's how they knew about the oral history tapes in the book.)

Also, we have a rigorous cleaning schedule every 3 months - including the backlog. cobwebs, dust, etc. begone!

Now, if I could just quit getting donations that have been ignored in filthy garages for 30+ years. The silverfish, roaches, spiders just creep me out. Mothballs are my friend. ;-)

Dec 11, 2007, 11:28am

Yup, I've definitely accessioned stuff that was in dusty metal boxes, but it wouldn't stay that way while waiting to be catalogued. Or I devoutly hope not!

Jan 22, 2008, 2:00pm

Just read The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland. Powerful, beautiful, tragic, intense. One that keeps you thinking throughout.

Edited: Apr 14, 2011, 3:42pm

I loved People of the Book: A novel but the narrator was more on the preservation/restoration side than an archivist....

Jun 1, 2011, 11:45pm

I'd say that the backlog is true. However, I wouldn't agree with the "gathering dust" comment or the use of "catalogued," a library-centric word.

Jun 24, 2011, 10:44pm

I really enjoyed Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor and more recently the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Both feature some discussion of archives usage (more prominent in the first), as well as visits to public archives. Can't remember if they did talk about dust though...

May 28, 2012, 4:09pm

I'm reading Aurel Stein ("On Ancient Central Asian Tracks") on the re-discovery of the oldest known paper archives in Chinese Central Asia. Stein complains when he
finds vandalism by previous treasure hunters who have disturbed the goods he was to take....