Image [cc] Chris Makarsky

There were a couple of incidents I read about over the weekend of government officials destroying unreplacable historic documents. The reasons for the destruction are not exactly clear, but it gives conspiracy theorists some interesting ideas of why officials would destroy the archives of which they are supposed to be caretakers for the next generations to come.

First there is the matter of the 100+ year old Franklin County, North Carolina documents that Diane Taylor Torrent of The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC discusses in her Facebook post of Timeline of the Destruction of 100 Year Old Franklin County, NC Records. This involved the uncovering of a room in the Franklin county courthouse basement housing records going as far back as the 1840’s. It is a facinating read of the difficulties that many archivists have to deal with when it comes to historical documents and the issues that come with time, water, mold, storage, and worst of all, government bureaucracy. Please take the time to read the story, but I’ll be the spoiler here and let you know that the documents were all incinerated after the state archives stepped in and took control. I’m sure the state will eventually come back and say that the records were destroyed for “safety” concerns over mold, but one blogger has her own ideas on what may have occurred.

The other story came from Boing Boing called Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplacable envionmental archives. The Canadian govenment had made promises of selling or digitizing materials from the St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, as well as the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Instead, the records were simply destroyed. Sent off to landfills or burned. Some copies have been found overseas, according to an update, but the fact that no records were kept of what was destroyed leaves many pieces of the collection lost forever.

I have never been one of those fanatics that believes that everything should be kept forever. However, government archivists are caretakers of our past so that it may be passed on to those that come after us. There is a reponsibility for these caretakers to be both responsible in their actions, and to think beyond the needs of today. I sincerely hope that both the North Carolina Archives, and the Canadian governments have solid reasoning for their actions and publically disclose what they destroyed, what was kept through digital or other means, and specific reasoning for why they decided to burn or bury these historic documents.