Some, I hope, may be familiar with Massiah’s documentary The Bombing of Osage Avenue, which was nationally broadcasted on PBS in 1987. The film observes local responses to the bomb that police dropped in West Philadelphia in 1985, causing the destruction of an entire city block. In targeting the black-liberation group MOVE, the police’s assault resulted in eleven people dead and sixty-five homes destroyed. Professor Karen Beckman, who interviewed me for the internship, has written a wonderful piece about the film, Massiah, and Scribe in this summer’s edition of Film Quarterly.
Two other students and I were given the primary task of initiating a digitization project of Scribe’s paper files. We worked for over nine weeks on the archival project. We began our process by meeting with professional archivists from Penn Libraries. From there we wrote up a methodology of how we planned to execute our work. We formulated filing codes and created finding aids for future researchers. We discovered scripts, storyboards, images, flyers, and other items related to the films. Once sorting through the contents, we determined which things ought to be scanned, and which should just be catalogued. After we finished a file, we transferred it into an acid-free folder to ensure its longevity. As a lover of all things old-school, I enjoyed seeing 90’s fonts and even older, historical maps of Philadelphia neighborhoods. Thanks to Google Maps, I couldn’t remember the last time I held a physical one.
Scribe’s records went as far back as 1984. Since text lacks tone, I do not say 1984 in amusement of how long ago it was. I mention it to solely to try and make one visualize the amount of paper material one (or an institution) might acquire in thirty years. It’s a staggering amount.
In helping Scribe archive their records I began thinking about paper in the digital age. I thought about how my wallet is constantly stuffed with coffee receipts I don’t need, and yet some paper is sacred, such as our birth certificates or social security cards. The universal accessibility that the internet has granted us can easily result in overlooking the importance of paper. What an ephemeral material, with the power to be extremely important, or extremely miniscule!