50 Year Rule

During the great depression of the 1930s the United States government sent photographers out to document the conditions across the country. By 1944 the depression was over, the nation was at war, and few people wanted to look at images of hard times. The Library of Congress knew about the collection of images and brought them into their collections. Fifty years later the public was very interested in the historic images. In fact one of the images in that collection, the migrant mother image taken by Dorothea Lange, is the most famous image in the library. The collection is now the most popular image collection in the library.

What can we learn form this? We can learn to have patience when judging the value of our collections. There is a lot of talk about the importance of digital resources in our libraries. Digital materials have advantages, they are quick to search and they are very portable. But we might want to take a while to evaluated the importance of our print collections. When we hear about institutions who are purging their print collections, we wonder, in 50 years will future scholars mourn the loss of materials? Only time will tell.

(FYI, BYU’s Museum of Art has a collection of images by Dorothea Lange.)