I was struck this past week by two experiences. Each experience, upon reflection, involved paper. Perhaps that shouldn't be a big surprise seeing as how I work with paper all the time, but these experiences reminded me about how very special paper can be.
The first was a manuscript written in 1855. Our client, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, has amongst their treasures, this handwritten music manuscript. Our job was to scan and reproduce this for a project of theirs. There's something different about handling a piece of paper written in 1855; almost as if it were a holy object. It felt like a glimpse back in time. America in 1855 was on the verge of civil war; the poet Walt Whitman published "Leaves of Grass", the Crimean War was waging on in the Ukraine, and the California Gold Rush was in full swing.
The second was the process of printing the Honorary Degree certificates and Citations for a major university in Boston. We have printed other diplomas and certificates in the past, but this process was a bit different. Most schools ask us to print 2-3 copies of each diploma. That way if a signature gets flubbed or some other mishap, they have a back up. In this case we were asked to print 100 copies of each. One of their senior people then comes in and hand selects 5 copies to take for signature. Once again the importance of paper struck me. The meticulous work that was demanded was to produce a document that would be revered, framed, and meant to last the test of time.
That got me to thinking about all of the other media I've encountered over the past twenty-something years. Then it struck me, oh my goodness, what would happen if these important documents we stored on other media? Remember floppy discs? Bernoulli drives? Syquest discs? CDs? Imagine, in the name of progress, if you were to get your diploma on a thumbdrive? or your wedding certificate on a floppy?
For me, now more than ever, I'll take the paper version.