ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

In Which The Collection Is Assessed —

So I mentioned a couple days ago how I took in all these magazines and artifacts. I figured I’d talk a little about my thinking behind how I deal with this collection. It’s not how everyone does it and I wouldn’t pretend to be a learned expert, but I wanted to share some of my methods to help understand how a daunting task can be made less daunting.

First, there’s the process of just going through the boxes themselves, to understand what I’m up against. In this case, since we’re talking 40-50 boxes, it’s a tad large, but I’ve done this process before – and the answer is that this is a very special collection in the realm of the Free Software Foundation, UNIX, and programming. Entire runs of journals and magazines, sometimes following a magazine as it goes through several incarnations, as well as stacks of USENIX symposium proceedings, and a mass of catalogs, software lists, and the like. So now I kind of know what I have here. Some photos of the boxes being opened:

The easiest thing to catalog are magazines. I list the title and then what issues I have on paper.textfiles.com. Other things, like catalogs, flyers, and books are simply being transferred into storage bins. I would like to go through these, but if I get hung up on cataloging down to every last scrap, this will never get done.

And that’s kind of what I want to get across. This is not a full-off cataloging of the entire collection – I am merely getting it to a state that a deeper examination can make use of. ├é┬áBecause paper.textfiles.com is a way to get the word out on what I have, I am doing this listing of magazines to get out there in public. And the framework is now in place to list even more items, as I can.

People, you see, get way too hung up on getting it all right the first time. I’m a big fan of getting it as right as you can the first time, in a way that doesn’t ruin it for all later attempts.

The collection has a lot of magazines where the entire run (up to a certain year) was collected. So many years of Byte, Computer Languages, and mainstays of the 1980s and 1990s. Also, there are a bunch of ACM Journals of all various stripe, again completing out to years. Here’s what a box of BYTE looks like:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/textfiles/3712984355/in/photostream/

For comparison, here’s a box with piles of very-thin ACM Communications journal. Rather daunting, at first glance:

These are fairly easy to catalog – I use a little notation system that just tells me the dates of what I’ve seen go by. It probably looks a little weird, but the intention is to do the least repetitive scrawling, while expanding out in typing at a later time.

After that, it’s into the bins, endless bins. I use cheap $4.88 bins from Home Depot just because I can get them by the stack. They’re not 100% great and somehow the company who makes them has found ways to make the bins flimsier and flimsier over time, but they’ll do for the moment. Here’s a nice stack of them, with file folders inside.

This is all the first revision, the attempt to get it under control. Some places, when they catalog these items, drill down into paper quality, width and height, and contents. I don’t see much point in doing that right now – as I go back to collections, it’s not hard to find online indexes and sets of PDFs that might or might not replace any scanning or categorizing I could be spending my time on. So I let it go, and just work to get that pile of bins.

And the project continues.


Categorised as: computer history | jason his own self

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2 Comments

  1. Good luck with this considerable project. Too much of computing history is disappearing much too quickly. People also only tend to save the `interesting` stuff. I found this out first hand when trying to restore a 286-era DOS machine to its former glory — most of the original installation disks for the old commercial software was lost, and when it wasn’t, there was no paper documentation available in any format. While CP/M is still alive and well in retrocomputing circles, much of the paper and advertising glossys are lost forever. We need projects like this (as well as BitSavers and TUHS) to keep history from obliteration. Good luck!

  2. Imthatguy says:

    Damn….. I envy you… all that knowledge and history