One of the first places that I went to during my holiday in Ireland was to University of Dublin, Trinity College. Why would I visit there? Trinity College is a world-famous university the likes of my “hometown” of Princeton or more close by, Oxford or Cambridge. The renowned Book of Kells exhibit is at the college, and part of the tour is the university’s Old Library. When people see photos of the Old Library, they recognize it instantly, and it’s a book lover’s fantasy room with books stacked from floor to ceiling on two floors. Rumor has it that the library of the Jedi Academy in the Star Wars films was based on the look of this library. To see the room in person is truly a sight to see.
At the entrance of the library, there were several shelves of dusty books stacked in bookcases that reached to the ceiling, with a sign in front (as seen in the photos) that restoration work was still being done to preserve the library and its contents. To put this photo in perspective, I’m guessing that the door well, which you can barely see from the right corner, is a normal-to-tall door well of about 8 feet tall, and the rope blocking these shelves barely seen on the bottom right is the normal hip height, so the ceiling has to be at least a good 13-14 feet to the top! As you can see, there are even a lot of books here!
Once in the Old Library itself, I looked at all the old books, marvelling at the sheer enormity of so many books in one place. I wondered how old some of these books were! The historian in me wanted to find cool books to see perspectives from another day and age, and lovingly leaf through pages of an old book. Then the technical communicator in me stepped in and took over my brain. I wondered if anyone could still access and read these books at all. I wondered if any of it had been digitized for current use, because all of the books looked like decorations now. How do we know what books are still in here? Had anyone done an audit? How relevant is any of the information? What is worth keeping in some form, and which items are, as I said before, purely decoration or kept in perpetuity? The historian in my returned in my head, wishing I could head up a restoration project of this kind to digitize every last book in that room. Why, if most likely 99% it is outdated? It’s because in auditing the content, sometimes you find a gem of information or data that has gotten lost in the shuffle, and ends up being a great piece of information that provides the missing piece to a puzzle.
In this modern age, this is something I think we need to keep in mind. Content audits are important in a content strategy. You don’t want to include information that isn’t relevant anymore, naturally. That’s a waste of space and the end-reader’s user of time. That’s logical. However, should you throw away all the information once you have deemed it non-usable at this time? I don’t think so. There will come a day when the manual of an old product will be needed to service that item–as an antique, and the manual will be helpful. Understanding our content past, just like any other piece of literature or antique artifact, is a connection to understanding how we have progressed, how we can improve, and where we have made mistakes. It can also provide clues to why we have the content we have now–did someone leave something out in more recent versions that might have been thought to be irrelevant during that edition, but older editions are relevant now? You never know unless you get the entire picture, and see what treasures you may have at your fingertips. They could be the key to success.
What do you think? Is keeping old content–at least, archiving it–a worthy endeavour? Post your comments below.
One thought on “Assessing old libraries–where’s the content audit?”
It definitely is!