Published, not product

At least, that was what the little voice in my head said when I found, via Boing Boing (which excerpted the paragraph that made me twinge), a GeekDad account of the discovery and auction of materials belonging to Dave Arneson (the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons).

The use of “product” and “non-product” to describe the materials made me twinge. It’s not an unreasonable way to distinguish between published materials and unpublished manuscripts, but the word choice drives home the profit-driven nature of the enterprise. The non-archivy terminology sparks questions about appraisal decisions. Just because somebody buys the contents of a storage unit, does that mean they’re doing it right?

And yes, even if you’re talking about non-profit repositories, “doing it right” means different things, real world constraints come into play, etc., etc. We can’t save everything, we don’t want to save everything, etc., etc. But there’s something anxiety-inducing about the treasure-hunter mentality. I worry about a Storage Wars Effect* influencing people’s expectations about the monetary value of materials that come into their possession—and influencing the care and ultimate disposition of those materials.

Admittedly, when the “they” in question seems to consist of experts in the field—geeky people who evaluate the possessions of geeks and sell them to other geeks—it’s less likely that interesting stuff will simply be trashed. I appreciate the fact that the article mentioned some meatier issues, like IP, and ended on the “wouldn’t it be nice if we had archives?” note.† Yes, it would; I’d like archives to get first crack at, well, just about everything, and I’d very much like them to have the resources to take advantage of it. But I will simply take a deep breath, and remind myself of the long antiquarian tradition that, despite its hobbyist nature, resulted in the preservation of some pretty cool stuff.

* Like the CSI Effect, which is largely anecdotal; empirical evidence has its impact hovering somewhere around negligible. In a similar vein, I have some anecdotal evidence for the existence of a “Storage Wars Effect,” but no real sense of how it affects potential donors’ decisions.

† More than a little irritated, too, because there are places that collect geeky stuff. The wistful sentiment had a bit of the “nobody understands/cares about us” stench clinging to it.