Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sharing is nice

I hear rumors that another O.C. city wants to turn their historical photo collection into a “profit center.”

Whether this rumor is true or not, it reflects a disturbing trend. More and more, local libraries and city councils see their community historical collections only as a way to make money. This, it turn, reflects a basic misunderstanding of the way local history is done.

Local history is usually collected, researched, written, and sometimes even published by volunteers. Many of these volunteers are retired. Being passionate about what they do, they donate innumerable hours to projects that enrich our community. None of them expect to get rich doing this. In fact, they’re usually happy to break even. But very few of them can afford to sign up for a project they know will leave them “in the hole.”

Creating or jacking up costs for photo use ensures that community history will be relegated to real estate calendars. Local historians are shut out when illustrated books, websites, and A/V presentations become prohibitively expensive.
I'm not kvetching about a small fee to cover reproduction costs, or a few bucks charged by a struggling non-profit. I'm talking about larger fees charged by government agencies (which we already fund through taxes) and even higher fees charged by some historical societies that supposedly want to promote an understanding of local history.

It’s also worth noting that such community photo collections tend to be built over many years, with donations from many families and individuals. In most cases, these donors thought they were giving something to their community – something that would be available to anyone who wanted to learn. These photos belong to the entire community.

And what does a government agency really have to gain by charging steep fees for historic photos? Not much. Even if the fees didn’t drive away business, the profits wouldn’t pay for the gas in one fire engine.
My plea to everyone -- from government agencies, to historical groups, to individual historians -- is to SHARE what you have with anyone who has a serious interest. There is little to be gained by hoarding and price-gouging. There is MUCH to be gained if we all work together.


Chris Merritt said...

Hear hear!

tris mast said...

I agree with Chris. Hear hear! And I applaud your clever choice of illustration.