Hoarder or Historian – Are you helping or hindering automotive history?

Consider these issues when you think you're helping save automotive history. Questions? We're here to help. Contact Us

Editorial -
Preserving Automotive History Isn't Just About Collecting Cars – or Posting Pictures

We have great tools on the internet: forums, social media, blogs, and even "My Own Personal Website", and many of these tools fall into the hands of auto enthusiasts, who truly love cars and automotive history.

Many enthusiasts start with noble aims – "I'm gonna save up as much information as I can about (name of automobile here) or (my favorite brand here)".  As Lyle Lovett sang; "That was her (their) first mistake".

Oh, the idea of saving isn't the mistake. The idea of 1) deciding how and where to save it, 2) the way to save it, and 3) the decision on what to save all are mistakes most make. I'll spend a little time on these aspects later in this missive.

When talking about saving, let's separate the saving from our personal ego. Because you like cars, or a brand of cars or even know a lot about a certain car does not make you a qualified historian, archivist, or worse, a fount of indispensable knowledge.  Frankly, most archivists, librarians or museum curators will tell you the more they collect, the more they realize how little they know.  Librarians, archivists and museum curators are more about saving and making information available than they are about being an "expert".

Like any other media, there needs to be a recognition that because you built a website, blog, run a forum, or have a handle on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn does not make you “the person". It is far too easy today to create a cache of data, pictures or literature and then believe because you collected and displayed it, you "own" it or that your game is the only game worth playing.

Ownership is not curatorship – look the two words up.  If you claim ownership, you are a hoarder. If you are curating it, you are preserving it – unless you've picked a faulty way to do it - that is also a big problem.

If you are thinking your efforts result in ownership, let's face it, you're not saving it. You are using it to entertain yourself (read ego) and others.  Curating or archiving automatically excludes ownership – it's there for others, not for you. Your satisfaction should come from the educational joy others get from you laying bare information that they may not have known. If that's not your reasoning, stop fooling yourself that you are saving it for others.

Let's say you truly think you are saving automotive material for posterity and you've invested a ton of time, effort, and money to make it available to others via some sort of media on the internet. Have you considered what happens when you die, or become incapacitated, or just lose interest/give up? Easily 95% of the people asked those questions by the Automotive History Preservation Society blink, then stutter, and then won't talk about it.  If you fall into this category, don’t kid yourself. You are doing it for YOU, not for anyone else. Close this paragraph with a flourish of trumpets playing "ta-da"!

Ok, you, the person really interested in saving information for others – you passed all the above tests with flying colors. You are truly a curator. But wait! There is an even bigger test. How did you save it?

Did you scan a bunch of stuff from your own collection, slap it on a website or drop it into a blog, or post it on Instagram? If that's what you did, go back to entertainment mode and have a nice day. Preservation involves a lot of other steps. Consider:

  • Do you own or have a perpetual license to the software where you stashed your material? If you don't you are at the mercy of the license owners.
  • Did you place it on a blog space like WordPress?  Better check who really owns your material. Also consider what may happen if the blog space folds or gets bought by someone who just wants a customer list.
  • Are you on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram or Twitter? Again, check who really owns or controls your material . . . you might be in for a real surprise.
  • What format did you select for your images? Did you scale them? Did you consider the image size and downloadability or its impact on storage limitations?
  • Did you think through how to catalog it or how a search engine might find it? Or how someone can even search it on your site?
  • Did you consider the resolution of the image? Were you careful, when you scanned it, to make sure it's all in focus or not faded into unreadability?

There are more things to consider, but I'm guessing you might have thought of one or two out of all these factors when you started out . .  and maybe you didin't.

People who think blogging out facts (or maybe their idea of facts) supported by a few pictures is preserving anything, should think again and go back ten spaces to "entertainment".  What you are doing may very well be accurate, illuminating, and even fascinating, but you are not preserving history.

Last, but not least, consider that after doing all this, you haven't created a formal organization, or in the U.S., registered as a not-for-profit, and surrounded yourself with others who can pick up the ball and run with it when you climb that stairway to heaven (queue Led Zeppelin), then you have also failed.

This essay has a point beyond showing you how you may have missed the mark, even with good intentions. This is actually a plea for all of you with those good intentions to collaborate with a professional association – to merge your efforts and knowledge with those who have thought it through and have someone on staff that knows the best way to really preserve auto history.

Work with that organization, join with them, and help them.  Make sure all your work goes on in perpetuity – "preserve the past for the future", truly. Try to make it not about you, but about the knowledge and the history.



You may have to be a logged in member of the
Auto History Preservation Society Library

to view these stories. Click HERE to log in. OR Click HERE to join.