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Friday, March 10, 2006

Shredding History

Antique-shop owner Dorothy "Jene" Bennett is trying her best to save historical documents from—of all things—the Utah State Archives and Records Service.

Bennett saved "several hundred pounds of historic papers" from the shredder when a storage shed at the Tooele County Courthouse was cleaned out last summer. But when the state got wind of her acquisition, they demanded that she turn the records over.

Bennett agreed, on one condition: the Archives had to pledge not to destroy any of the documents. She thought she had gotten such a pledge ("the State Records Committee has approved them for permanent retention"), but as it turns out . . . not so much. In the world of Archives director Patricia Smith-Mansfield, "permanent retention" can mean "chance of incineration."

"There might be items that might be destroyed. We haven't made that assessment yet ... Whenever we do an appraisal, we look at the record and what it contains and how it fits in with the historical picture," Smith-Mansfield said.
It's not clear whether the Archives can legally release or sell documents slated for destruction—Smith-Mansfield "declined to comment." But Dorothy Bennett isn't so reticent:
"They're destroying history, and it may not be important history to them or to Tooele County. But it's important history to families," she said.

Even the most mundane of documents might be valuable keepsakes to descendants of the document creator, Bennett urged.

"Say it's my grandfather, maybe I've never seen his hand writing or his signature. That would be a thrill ... [The documents that will be destroyed by the Archives] ought to be networked back into the community and to the families," Bennett said. "Show these things the respect they deserve for lasting this long." [Link]

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