Benjamin Franklin was a writer, printer, inventor, and statesman.  Perhaps most importantly for the focus of this blog, in 1731 he founded the first American lending library — the predecessor to the public library.  He published Poor Richard’s Almanack from 1732-57, and I’ll reflect on some of the proverbs from these publications — all of which have broad applicability but which I’ll try to focus on archival work.

“How few there are who have courage enough to own their Faults, or resolution enough to mend them!”

Admitting fault is a very big ask for most human beings, but in the archival world, we need to find a way to acknowledge our mistakes — be they sins of commission or omission — and immediately set about finding ways to improve our procedures and policies.  Our work is too important to allow for pride (or intransigence) to get in the way of doing things the right way.

“What you would seem to be, be really.”

There’s a lot of talk in the archival world about best practice, but we don’t always practice what we preach.

“To-morrow I’ll reform, the fool does say; To-day itself’s too late; — the wise did yesterday.”

Archival preservation seems to be a long game, which unfortunately sometimes lulls people into thinking that change need only come slowly, but reforms need to be initiated sooner rather than later.

“Hide not your Talents, they for use were made: What’s a Sun-Dial in the Shade?”

Even with all of the conferences and publications out there, I still worry that people are doing great archival work that is not widely known.  We need to keep working on better ways to share greatness.

“Learn of the skilful: He that teaches himself, hath a fool for his master.”

I’ve previously written about the state of archival education, and I worry that the growing demand for graduate education has lulled workplaces into believing that candidates arrive at positions polished enough for any job.  Instead, I think the masters of the field still need to take the lead in passing along their practical wisdom to those new to the field.

“Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle.”

Definitely not archives-specific, but a thought I wish all would embrace!

“You may delay, but Time will not.”

This statement could have originated in a workshop on digital preservation.  Especially with electronic records, there’s no time to craft perfect policies and procedures while the data already in our possession has not been properly protected.

“Forewarn’d, forearm’d.”

I wholeheartedly believe that many of life’s difficulties can be anticipated and, therefore, addressed with planning.  Archivists need to embrace the idea of being proactive rather than reactive.

“Diligence overcomes Difficulties, Sloth makes them.”

Another universal truth — but given the attention to detail required of proficient archivists, this one called to be included.

“Think of three Things — whence you came, where you are going, and to Whom you must account.”

This encompasses three things significant to archivists — history, planning, and accountability.

Lastly, one of Franklin’s 13 virtues — “Order: Let all your things have their places.  Let each part of your business have its time.”

This provides a succinct summation of the work of archival arrangement.

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