Thursday, January 24, 2019

Relevance of the Book Version of the Official Records of the Rebellion

Anyone that has ever researched the Civil War knows of, and has most likely used, the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, and virtually any book published bout the War includes these records (normally noted as "OR") in its bibliography. Readers of this blog surely know that already.

What I am wondering is: is the book version of these records still relevant?  In the age of compact discs and so many publications, including the OR, digitized online (see the OR  here or here ), with handy "find" features, is the original 128 book version of these records still worth having? 

A historical group I belong to is fortunate enough to have a full set of the OR (though one person suggested one volume is missing. I have not confirmed that.) The group now is considering putting these books in storage somewhere in order to display other items, probably additional non-Civil War military uniforms. 

This is not a Civil War group and its mission is beyond just that one period of time, so it is understandable that some people want to show other items from our collection, but the willingness to hide (or possibly even get rid of) the OR frustrates me.

I understand the books are online now and that we could purchase a CD of these books. Both of these options have search functions and take up much, much less space than the dozens of thick, heavy OR books. I have trouble arguing against such logic.

On the other hand, I like how these books look. They are a modern printing, with the dark blue covers, and I think the collection looks really good on the shelves. When I think of Civil War research, these shelves are what that looks like to me. These books ARE Civil War research. 

I must also reluctantly acknowledge that these books rarely leave the shelves in our office. We do not get a lot of Civil War researchers visiting us, though I have used them occasionally (but not very recently). Maybe a Korean War uniform would attract more interest from visitors, and it would be something unique to our displays. We have other uniforms on display, but none from that conflict. 

Again, I must admit that the logic behind changing exhibits seems strong and I have not found a good counter for it, but as a Civil War student, I really like the OR collection. Even if we do decide to remove it from display, I will absolutely make sure we either store these books safely or find a good home for them. In a worst case scenario, I would take them to my house, finding room to keep them, but that is unlikely as I know of another organization that would likely accept them. So from that sense, they are safe - they will end up well-stored or in another good home, so destruction is not a threat, but I still emotionally like seeing them in the office, on the shelves. They really do make a handsome collection, but maybe that's just the Civil War enthusiast in me, as others in the group do not share my view. It is frustrating on some level, but others have acknowledged that throwing away these volumes is not an option. I think I have expressed my feelings of the importance of the books enough at least to ensure they will be treated with respect, even if not on display. 

What do others think? Is it fine now just to rely on digitized versions of these records and forget about the actual books? I have used these new versions so and probably will continue to, but I still appreciate the book version. The convenience of the electronic versions is undeniable. I do still read actual books instead of e-versions, but for a research project, it is nice to hit "ctrl-F" or another find function to locate key information. I think the digitized versions of these records are a major improvement, but I do appreciate the original format. The Official Records are far from perfect sources, but seeing all those books shelved together still makes me happy, and I know this may not be logical. I make no claim to be another Spock. 😊 Hopefully this modern world finds a way to feature the convenient electronic copies while not losing the actual books. There still is a place for real books and real records. At least I hope so.

As I proofread and edit this post, perhaps it truly is more about books in general than just the OR, though the situation with the OR is real and did inspire my rant.

I also hope I'm not just being an old-fashioned, "get off my lawn" type of grouch, but as I read and re-read my post again, my main points seem to be about sentimentality more than practicality. That said, there is room for such feelings in the world today and while 128 volumes of several hundred pages each may not be the easiest or fastest approach to finding information, I do still find these books to be relevant. 

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