A massive digitization project involving the cooperation of two governments and the crusading efforts by several individual stakeholders led to the donation of the Hemingway Collection to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in 2008. This donation included digitized editions of papers that had been stored in the basement of Hemingway’s farm house in Cuba, papers that even included an alternate ending to one of the author’s greatest novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls. More on the Hemingway Collection can be found HERE.
Now, though, a second donation of digitized content has been made, this time decidedly less noteworthy. Scraps of paper, brochures from hardware the author was possibly considering purchasing, years of Christmas cards, and even some of his fourth wife’s recipes have all been scanned and salvaged for posterity. While this new collection does contain items of interest, like congratulatory telegrams from well-known people for Hemingway’s Nobel Prize, other pieces of data are nothing more than minutia taking up file space.
While it’s good to be able to preserve items that belonged to an important historical and literary figure, it does beg that question, “Is there such a thing as too much digitization?”
Given the virtual status of this data, the answer may at first appear to be “no.” What’s the harm in storing digital replicas of seemingly unimportant documents? After all, if they were important enough to the author to save–despite common sentiment that he was a hoarder–they may be worth storing now that the paper is unnecessary to the process.
On the other hand, the rampant need to digitize everything, especially where massive projects are underway to protect and share rare books and documents, may mean that more important items fall through the cracks while seventy year old bank statements undergo a rigorous restoration process. Elsewhere, rare books may be languishing in a different basement while Hemingway’s son’s homework is lovingly be preserved. Even if every worldwide book, document, and scrap of nostalgia could be digitized, the burden of storage and protection still falls to the recipient.
For now, it would seem like the best course of action may be to save as much as possible, then sort out the storage of the content later. Documents are at this very moment languishing in less than ideal conditions, and may be lost without digital protection. The multiple pages of blank Hemingway stationery that were meticulously scanned in the project can always be deleted later.