After procrastinating for fifteen years, I finally vowed this summer to place my literary papers somewhere where they could be properly archived and preserved. My poems, novels, and manuscripts are going to be housed at the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library at Smith College in Northampton, MA. This means Smith is taking my first editions, manuscripts, rough drafts of my poems and novels, fliers for all the readings I’ve done, copies of all the publications that contain my work, and a lot of other things including my literary correspondence. This also means that if you have ever published one of my poems or written me a letter or an email that does not contain intimate personal information, your work will also be housed with the Mary Mackey Papers at Smith forever or until the human race goes extinct from climate change.
If you are a writer, an artist, editor, or publisher, or have records of a career that will be of interest to future scholars, I urge you not to follow my example and wait fifteen years to archive your papers. Please do it now while you are alive to make vital decisions about your collection (like removing all those old love letters). I talked to archivists from thirteen universities and special collections libraries this summer, and several of them told me that the life expectancy of digital material is about five years. If you aren’t old enough or far enough along in your career to archive your papers, please make hard copies of your material. The history of the twenty-first century is being written on water. Let’s write it on stone.
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