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P-I archives should be saved

Acres of notes and other papers appear to be homeless

These words in Lewis Kamb's moving chronicle of the last day of the print P-I stopped me in my tracks:

In other corners of the newsroom, documents and sacred records that took years to accumulate were pulled from filing cabinets and discarded into dumpsters, gone in a matter of minutes. Longtime military writer Mike Barber, a former cops reporter who covered the saga of the nation's longest unsolved serial murders as it unfolded from the banks of the Green River, dumped more than three decades of records, probably enough material for four books, he said. "But you know what, " said Barber, a P-I reporter for 21 years. "Somebody else will have to write it. I'm too old and don't have the time."

Now, I understand both the power of catharsis and the tendency of storage boxes to crowd out living space, but the preservationist and amateur historian in me is faintly horrified at the thought of so much material being lost forever. I don't blame the rank and file: were I to find myself out of a job I'd held for two decades (something which, incidentally, this 33-year-old is increasingly unlikely to experience) I'd likely be more concerned about my future than my ex-employer's history.

But I am surprised that neither P-I management nor Hearst itself saw fit to put some sort of archival plan into action. After all, everyone knew this day was coming, and the paper had already donated the bulk of its massive photographic collection to MOHAI in 1986 and 2000. I can't imagine the museum's new South Lake Union digs aren't big enough to accommodate the P-I's relics, or that the UW Libraries — budget crisis notwithstanding — wouldn't jump at the chance to preserve their records.

Slate says defunct papers' archives, if they don't end up in libraries, often go to their competitors. The Seattle Times, unfortunately, doesn't seem like the best long-term repository. Hearst retains the rights to what's left, for now — I hope it, too, doesn't end up in an Elliott Avenue dumpster.

Seattle native Benjamin Lukoff's interest in local history was kindled at the age of six, when his father bought him Sophie Frye Bass’s Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle at the MOHAI gift shop. His first book, Seattle Then and Now, was published in 2010. You can send him e-mail at lukoff@gmail.com or find him on Twitter at @lukobe.


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