The Local Yarn

What Should People Do With Old Journals?

When I die, I’ll leave behind a lot of journals and notebooks. These may be of interest to my immediate family, but they won’t exactly be great leisure reading. The only obvious choices are to keep them in a box in the attic, or eventually throw them out.

There ought to be a third choice. Even the most mundane journal has great value simply because it contains lots of historical information about current thinking, lifestyle habits, values, and events, things which change wildly over long time periods.

On the receiving end, suppose you inherit your great-grandfather’s journal; he has been dead for decades and you never knew him personally. If you can find the time, you pore over it for an hour or two, deciphering the handwriting. You learn some facts about him and how he looked at things. What happens after that?

I have an idea that there should be an archive, a public repository for things like this. You could send in your great-grandfather’s journal for use by future historians. They would digitize or transcribe it, analyze it, and tag it with metadata about who wrote it, when they wrote it, and generally what topics they wrote about. They could allow you to specify that it must remain private until a specified date, and provide you with a digital copy, or even a nice hard copy if you wanted to pay a little extra.

This would give researchers a huge resource to draw upon, and allow the full value of old journals (the sentimental and the historic value) to be realized, without compromising anyone’s privacy.