Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Monday, April 23, 2007

E-Mail Etiquette

Most everyone, it seems, uses, to some extent, email. And, as well, nearly all have at some point or another committed a gaffe with it. David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, in their Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), start from such premises, writing this book “to figure out why email has such a tendency to go awry – and to learn for ourselves how to email not just adequately but also well” (p. 7).

The authors consider when to use email, how to write email, the six essential types of email, issues with dispatching emotional email, how to get a jail sentence with email, and basic principles in managing email. This is an intelligent etiquette on email. For the present user of email, the reader will gain some useful insights in writing, sending, and administering email. For the records professional or student of records and their culture, this is a signpost to how society reflects about the use and reliance on email. Just as if one is to study nineteenth-century correspondence, they might turn to a letter writing guide, we can consult books like this one by Shipley and Schwalbe when we study email and its implications.

Along the way, the archivist or records manager will come across interesting advice that gets to the heart of the nature of the digital documentary universe. Here’s an example: “A warning about attached Word documents: they may include Track Changes (a program that shows previous edits). If you don’t want people to see the history of what’s been done to the document, make sure the changes are accepted and purged” (p. 29). The authors also place email into its broader documentary context, such as comparing it to the written letter: “A handwritten note makes it personal; a typewritten letter on company stationery makes it official. Each in its own way comes with a weight that email will never have” (p. 35). And the authors make references to adhering to an organization’s records or archives policy, stating, “The fundamental point to keep in mind when archiving is this: be consistent. Keep the same stuff; discard the same stuff. People get into trouble when they deviate and make exceptions” (p. 213).