Archival Gold: Managing & Preserving Publishers' Records

Laura M. Coles (Simon Fraser University)

There can be little doubt that there is definite value to society in preserving and making accessible the unique records of the purveyors of mass culture. As the National Archivist of Canada, Dr. Jean-Pierre Wallot, notes in the introduction to this work,

In a sense, the history of publishing, today as in the past, constitutes a screen on which meet the images of the economy... , of society... , and of ideologies, all of them merging into an exceptional "frame" of what our society is all about.

Similarly, Archival Gold merges historical, legal, financial, and management images into a "frame" of what archives are all about. In reading through this book, though, it is necessary to keep in mind that it was written with a very specific audience in mind and for a very specific purpose.

Archivists work in a world which is often seen as the antithesis of mass culture. Each collection of documents, or in larger archives, each fonds or record series is unique. This can have the effect of producing idiosyncratic language and procedures. There are occasional instances of this in Archival Gold.

The five chapters lay out important considerations and answer common questions about archives and publishers' records. "Why Are Publishers' Records Valuable?" (chapter one) stresses historical research aspects of these archives. Chapter two, "A Records Management Program," provides the basics in the management of records through inventorying and scheduling the disposition of records. "Which Publishers' Records Are Valuable?" provides publishers with guidelines for categories of records of short term, interim, and permanent value. Consideration of an in-house archival program versus deposit or use of another archive's services is thoroughly discussed in "The Fate of Your Archival Records." Perhaps the strongest chapter, "Common Questions about Archives and Records," gives good answers to a wide range of questions.

The approach to this work as a handbook for publishers' records is at once its major strength and weakness. Its strength lies in its ability to speak to those who will make decisions about the future of publishing's recorded past. Its weakness is that in trying to make itself a common denominator in the treatment of publishers' records, it puts forward some views which, while well represented in archival endeavours, are not universal. The best example is the traditional idea of archives as history in the opening chapter. Why are publishers' records valuable for Archival Gold? Reasons given include company histories, business studies, the "impact of books on political and social thought," and a variety of other external research areas. Even given the second chapter dealing with records management, there is a failure to convey the dynamic effect of retrospective analysis on the creator of the records. In a day when information is served to consumers in palatable "frames," why not show publishers the value of information about themselves over a continuum? There is also the difficult area of providing guidelines for which records should be kept and which thrown out. Some will buy the book and think they have started an archival and/or records management program.

Laura Coles cannot be entirely faulted for her approach in these particular areas, for it is not an approach without merit. Like it or not, archives are historical documents, and the advice given is generally sound. Those interested in publishing in general and Canadian publishers themselves in particular will owe Laura Coles and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing a great debt for this work's anticipated role in the preservation and accessibility of publishers' records.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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