To save or delete, so often that is the question before us in the digital computer age. Do we stash this in the old wooden humpback trunk or toss it out in the creek gully in the back pasture with the other trash? That’s what our ancestors often asked themselves. On a professional level, librarians and record keepers working anonymously debated whether to keeps boxes of papers, old books, some obviously important and others seemingly routine.
The savers seem more valuable than the tossers when one age gazes back at another. That was certainly the vibe this week, as we celebrated President’s Day on Monday. Abraham Lincoln seems everywhere. He’s starring in the movies, playing to mixed reviews on television because known factual details were omitted, and he’s the subject of numerous museum displays across the country. Lincoln’s pivotal place in our nation’s history coupled with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War certainly helps keep him in the limelight. But as big a factor is the incredible amount of details about his life and governance that keep surfacing.
What details of our lives will people be culling through centuries from now? Where are records of our thoughts and actions being saved? Are they on file in ways known and unknown to us, things someday people will curiously ponder?
Most of us consider ourselves not important enough to be worthy of study 200 years from now. Maybe we’ll be right. But on the other hand, while Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson likely knew they were making history, those around them might be surprised at how their thoughts and deeds became lore in books (e-books?) or in various entertainment modes.
Honest Abe, the simple backwoods lawyer, would probably be puzzled that his signatures on documents fetch big money if auctioned, that his letters are viewed as priceless and that a lock of his hair is still making news (a photo was in the KC Star last week).
The years rolling past have put Lincoln further back in history. But the ability of modern scholars to ferret out minute details and come across little known writings or memorabilia freshen the stories. Librarians have long been hard at work saving things they felt were valuable. But the Internet has helped the fruits of their labor ripen.