Notes From The Archivist | The Temptation of Self-Censorship



Cataloging and digitalizing an archive is an enormous task that requires both time and money. One of the first things that you have to confront when you’re working on your own archives is self-censorship. When you are looking at a document that was created some decades ago it is very tempting to destroy anything that you consider to be either ‘unimportant’ or ‘embarrassing’.

I believe that you should keep these documents and let others be the judge on their significance or worthwhileness. Sometimes, a letter or a document that seems to have absolutely no historical significance due to its bureaucratic formality or it’s perceived irrelevance can have value simply because it records a date. That date can help you identify another document that has no time or place reference.

Let’s take as an example, the template letter that was sent to people in the Sydney performing arts community in 1980 to gather support for the establishment of 199 Cleveland Street, Redfern as the Performance Space. Each document is exactly the same with the only difference being the name and address of the person it was being sent to. It was tempting to save only one copy as an example of what was used to gather support for the concept. However, in keeping all of them, and reviewing it 35 years later, it is a great survey on who were the players in Sydney that were concerned about new form performance in those days.