The intersection of soccer and archives

As some of you may be aware, I am a bit of a soccer nut. I’m a fan of DC United and the Men’s and Women’s United States National Teams. Last summer, I created a new twitter account for my soccer ramblings, just so that all my archivist friends wouldn’t have to listen if they didn’t want to. However, the worlds of archives have been intersecting recently.

The first intersection of soccer and archives is the fact that Vancouver Whitecaps FC, a team in Major League Soccer, has hired an archivist for the rest of the season. There was a post about it on a Canadian archives listserv, but I am unable to find a link to the actual job posting. I emailed the Whitecaps to see if they would send me the posting, but no word on that yet. I would be interested to see what kind of records they are looking to preserve; memorabilia and paperwork from the club itself, of course, but are they going after more? There is a world of digital content, blogs, tweets, flickr pictures, and supporters clubs items that they could also try to get.

The second intersection is one that we are all used to: an interest old document being put up for auction and sold for a ridiculous sum of money. In this case, the oldest soccer team in the world, Sheffield FC, has sold the oldest handwritten copy of the rules of soccer for the tidy sum of $1.42 million. That document, as well as others, were sold to raise money for the club, which currently plays on the seventh level of English soccer. This amount of money is a gamechanger for a team on this level, three rungs below fully professional leagues, and could allow the the ability to pay good enough players for them to jump up into more prestigious, and more lucrative, leagues. However, there is always a twinge in my heart when a collection is broken up and sold into private hands. Hopefully someday these materials will be back in the public’s custody, or perhaps the new owner will allow it to be digitized and made available that way.

A sidelong look into the world of special collections dealers

First of all, if you’re not listening to This American Life, whether or the radio or in podcast form, you should start. But this past week’s episode, entitled Original Recipe, gives us a sidelong glimpse into the mindset of special collections dealers. As should become very obvious, this is about a unique situation that happens very rarely. But I think that, throughout the course of the story, John Reznikoff says things that give you insight into the mindset of dealers more broadly.

Briefly, Reznikoff is a document expert, handwriting expert, and big money dealer of artifacts and documents. In 1993, he was befriended by a man who told him that he had documents proving that John F. Kennedy paid off Marilyn Monroe and that he had ties to the mafia. These documents were verified as true by other experts and sold. They, of course, turned out to be forgeries.

But the part that interests me is more in the set up to the story, before Reznikoff is duped. When he gets a collection of items, whether it be artifacts or documents, his goal is to make as much money as he can off it. For example, he sold President Obama’s first car, a Jeep, but was allowed to strip many of the original parts out first, which he then sold as well. This mindset, applied to cars, is one thing; but when applied to special collections material, it becomes much more of a problem. The items with which Reznikoff is dealing, the artifacts and documents of the rich and the famous, can be sold as individual items because there are people out there willing to pay thousands of dollars to seem closer to someone famous. But through the power of the Internet, more people think that they can make money by chopping up collections and selling them piece by piece. We, as archivists, need to reach out to amateur dealers and try to get them to at least understand where we are coming from and why keeping collections as a whole can be important.

The other half of the episode of This American Life is about the search for the original recipe for Coca-Cola. They talk, briefly, to Coke’s corporate archivist, asking him questions about the recipe for Coke that was found in their archives. I know that they have trade secrets to protect, but their archivist seemed to be more focused on obfuscating information rather than providing access. That may be a byproduct of the mythology that Coke has built around the original recipe, but it still seemed off coming from an archivist.

If you have listened to the episode, what do you think?