Saturday, January 18, 2014

Farewell to the Copy Machine

In the January 9 issue of The New York Review, Robert Darnton has a review of Arlette Farge's 1989 book, which has finally been translated into English, The Allure of the Archives. This led him to reminisce about his own experiences in doing archival research in France. One particular passage hit me very close to home:
When I last worked in the [French] Archives Nationales, scribbling notes on index cards—difficult to find these days—and trying to shut out the tap-tap of computer all around me, I felt hopelessly antiquated. At one point I came upon a document so rich and lengthy that I asked the archivist on duty whether I could have it photocopied. She replied with a smile that the copying machines had gone the way of typewriters. I should buy a digital camera.
This did not totally surprise me. There is a wonderful archival collection on the top floor of the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, a great place to read reviews of concerts given in San Francisco 100 years ago. During my first visit, around the time I began writing this blog, I encountered table after table sporting tripods for cell phones with cameras built into them and researchers scrupulously setting up their shots. My guess is that those photographic pages of text would download their images into their OCR system of choice. It never occurred to me to ask if there was a copy machine near that room, coin-operated or otherwise!

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