Sunday 5 December 2010

The Sarah Jane Archives

My first laptop! - Compaq LST128, top of the range
At the end of my 'O' levels, I symbolically ripped every sheet of notes, coursework, everything, and burned them. For one scary moment the flames licked the ceiling and I was reminded that by ripping them all up, I had increased the surface area exposed to air, therefore impressive flame (I always liked physics).

Fortunately, the pitifully low volume of fuel also meant the fire lasted less than a minute, and school was safe.

My 'A' level notes and first degree notes went much the same way, but by the early 1990s I had a green screen laptop the size of a small car, 'wordperfect' had made me legible, and I discovered Papyrus Bibliography system!  My computer may have had the RAM of a modern fridge, but for the first time I could catalogue my notes, list, add keywords, search by author, date, anything. For the first time my notes were useful for something other than fuel.

Sarah Jane's computer, Mr Smith
Sarah Jane (Dr Who spin off on cbbc) also has a computer the size of a small car, but with much better special effect add ons. This morning Luke (son of Bane, with near perfect memory recall) was using said computer, Mr Smith, to create his own backup of aliens encountered, and a new spin off series.

I've worked a lot with archives and appreciate their value to future generations. In our (Birmingham's) archives, I'm also aware how little 'primary' material there is written by young people in our archives (rather than 'secondary' i.e. About children, of which there is quite a lot). It's a tough one, but the pandora box opened by our new technologies, accessible, properly catalogued information recorded by young people (and other poorly represented groups and comunities) is an opportunity we need to take full advantage of.

Today on Radio 4 news following the Cumbrian floods (again) a victim was upset about loosing the most valuable thing to her - the photos and artwork of her children.  Our own children's work holds a special place for each of us, but how important is the artwork and voice of our children now, and what should we be doing to listen to, celebrate, document, and archive it for future (or even the same) generation?

Our own Creative Partnerships database does document and evaluate our work in schools extensively, and I hope will be put to good use when CP is no more in July. However, is this really going to hit our own (CP's) objectives to empower young people, providing open access to all? In Foucault's terms where does the knowledge and power reside?

Luke ended the programme with a pithy remark which sums up archives for me - 'I hope this is useful to you, Sarah Jane, or whoever you are, in the future , to save the world.'


  1. There is a very small amount of archive material in Birmingham's archive collections actually produced by children - there's an awesome "Gang" magazine from the 1930's or 40's and some beautiful paper soldiers from the early nineteenth century. Neither on the online catalogue inevitably but one day....


  2. Thanks - I've not come across this one and will look it up sometime. Wishing well and see you in New Year!