Monday, March 12, 2007

The cost of doing business, or, How much is that picture in the window?

Today, we ran out of polyethelene sleeves for 5x7 photographs. Again. With the large photographic donations we received earlier this year from OHSU News & Publications, we are awash in fantastic pictorial resources--all of which are crying out for protection.

The sleeves not only protect the prints from finger oils, dust, and tears, they protect them from each other: some of these pictures have been taped to mounts, captioned with water-soluble inks, or not properly set when developed. Providing a layer of protection between each print is critical, since they all wind up rubbing shoulders within the folders of the Historical Image Collection.

Which brings me back to the fact that we're out of 5x7 sleeves. It's interesting: I'm sure a whole thesis could be written on the proliferation of various print sizes and which were most popular when. Pre-1970, 8x10 was king; when ordering photo supplies we always stock up on the 8x10 sleeves to make sure we always have some on hand. It has just been in the past few years, when we've started to receive photographs printed since 1970, that we have seen a rise in the number of smaller prints, 4x6 and 5x7. Needless to say, we were taken a bit by surprise when it turned out that the majority of the prints in the two recent UNP donations were of these smaller dimensions.

So, as I've watched the stock of 5x7 sleeves diminish, I've found myself asking: is anyone ever going to want to use that picture? For the pictures of the first heart transplant done here at OHSU, the answer is a resounding YES--and consequently I feel honored to be able to slip them into their little jackets.

But pictures of parking structures? Shot after shot after shot of parked cars? I realize parking is a perennial problem and point of contention here, but surely these images can't be as important as pictures of actual heart transplant surgery? Maybe, if I could squeeze some of the parking pictures into slightly smaller sleeves, with just a little bit of the print hanging out one end, I might be able to sleeve a few more of the "better" pictures in proper protection....

I'm torn: this seems the height of heresy! I shouldn't be placing my value judgments on historic materials! Someday a world-renowned scholar of parking culture may come and wish to use our vast archive of parking-ana.... Actually, I have a hard time imagining that will ever happen. And when the price of polyethelene sleeves is working out to be 10 cents per sleeve for 4x5 and 30 cents per sleeve for 8x10, the point is far from moot.

So, if you come by the History of Medicine Room in a little while, asking to see all of our parking photos, and a few of those photos have some fingerprints on the edges--well, you'll know why. And I don't think I'll be that sorry....

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