Why Preserving History Matters
Last year I was honored to be named the first spokesman of national Preservation Week® to help raise awareness of the vital role our libraries play in saving our historic treasures. As a student of history, which lies at the heart of all of my novels, I know how easily priceless artifacts can be lost forever. But where great treasures like the Library of Alexandria were lost due to simple neglect, today we are facing super storms that have the power to turn infrastructure into rubble.
The heartbreaking images of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the coastlines of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were made more poignant by shots of grandparents’ wedding photos, baby pictures, class yearbooks and diplomas floating in tatters atop muddy water. The truth is that natural disasters can happen at any time. In 2011 my wife Elizabeth and I arrived at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, New York at about the same time as a freak October snowstorm. I still remember how fragile the boyhood home of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, looked under that early snow. It was reassuring to know that curators had taken precautions to ensure that the precious papers and other artifacts wouldn’t be affected by the damage and blackout caused by the storm.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of us are not as prepared.
This year’s second annual observance of National Preservation Week, April 21–27, is focusing on protecting our personal historic treasures against life’s unexpected storms. A terrific event is planned in Washington D.C. to help drive this point home. The Smithsonian Libraries is partnering with the American Library Association, the Association of Library Collections and Technical Services, the Library of Congress, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to present a Preservation Share Fair at the Dillon Ripley Center on the National Mall. This will happen April 24 from noon to 4:30 p.m. Curators and preservationists will be on hand to offer instruction on how to best protect your own personal history. You can even bring some of it along for them to see and offer specific advice. I’ll be there, too. I’m honored to take part in this event, returning for a second year as National Preservation Week spokesperson, helping people to preserve and pass along their most cherished possessions to the next generation.
Because history matters.