Tuesday, October 2, 2012

American Archives Month

It's October, and that means it's American Archives Month!

American Archives Month, established by the Society of American Archivists in 2006, is a collaborative effort by professional archivists and archival repositories around the
nation to highlight the importance of materials and records of enduring value--this includes things like photographs, manuscripts, letters, newspapers and advertisements, family records, business records, diaries, audio/video footage, artwork, trophies, etc.

Note the shipping label on the case.
American Archives Month affords the Barbara Jordan Archives the opportunity to highlight some of the more rare and unusual materials in the collection that fall outside of the typical paper manuscript and photographs commonly found in many archival collections.  For example, the most unusual (and certainly the heaviest) item in the Jordan Archives is a 1970s JVC videocassette recorder, complete with a steel-cornered traveling trunk.  These video recorders were among the first to be produced for use by the general public; up to then such equipment was only available to television stations or the wealthy. This particular model recorded and played back 3/4-inch U-Matic tapes, the forerunner to the more common 1/2-inch VCR tapes that most people born before 1990 are familiar with.  It's not known exactly what Jordan's purpose for owning such a machine, though Jordan was known for paying close attention to current issues discussed on political pundit shows (CBS Sunday Morning, Meet the Press, or the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, for example); in the days before 24-hour cable news channels and the internet, it's likely that Jordan wanted to keep as connected as possible to the political news of the day.  And there are over 100 U-Matic tapes in Jordan's collection (currently being prepared for digitization) that attest to the fact that the machine was indeed put to use.

What makes this piece of equipment so unusual is that Jordan apparently traveled with it (the protective case still has an identification label affixed to the front), which is even more impressive considering the size and weight of the machine. The recorder alone is about 40 pounds, while the wood and metal case adds at least another 60 pounds, and the case itself measures roughly 2 feet by 3 feet by 1 and 1/2 feet.  One could surmise that the recorder must have been an important tool for Jordan for her to purchase one and then to travel with it, at what must have been a considerable cost.

So, archives are not always just about old papers, faded photographs and dusty file boxes.  Digging a little further can sometimes yield some interesting buried treasure.

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