The Usefulness of a Good Archive

The written word is all that stands between memory and oblivion. Without books as our anchors, we are cast adrift, neither teaching nor learning. They are windows on the past, mirrors on the present, and prisms reflecting all possible futures. Books are lighthouses erected in the dark sea of time.
Jeffery Robbins in “Gargoyles”

A few years back I created a book for  an — at that time — good friend of mine who was pregnant. It was a book where — on a few hundred pages — the key events of the life of the child could be collected. Unfortunately, the friendship ended before the child was born and before I could give her the already finished book. I kept the book for a while, but given that it was specifically for a child with the name she wanted to give the child and the child had the other sex anyway (surprise), I threw it away eventually.

But the files, the information about the contents, the PDF, all that should be archived, I kept.

And a few months ago, a former colleague got pregnant and I thought that she (and her husband and the child) might like such a book.

And this is where a good archive comes into play. With the archive, I could easily locate the files, have a look at them, use it as the basis for a much improved version and create a new book that is specifically adapted to the child. And this time I waited with printing it until the child was born and sex and name was confirmed.

It is hard to have a project that you have to cancel, a work that you have to destroy — and don’t get me started on the pain of seeing a friendship … wither away and … to end it … because you can neither stand nor change it. But at least good ideas that could not be realized can serve as the basis or strong influence for future projects. Just because a current incarnation of an idea dies, does not mean that the whole idea should die.

In short: Keep a good archive. You find more information about it in the book as page on this site or in the book as PDF.


  1. Do you have a friend looking for a new online business?

    Creating a customized version of the book you described (using print-on-demand) might be a good one. A little research would allow parents to customize it in various ways beyond just girl or boy, for instance, adding a family tree with photographs.

  2. Sure, there are countless possibilities of how you could further personalize the book besides having the name on the cover and on every page (see images below the text). For example, it would be possible to create a simple web interface where parents can enter their names and the name of the child and let a script create the PDF file. This would allow every person who wants it to have such a book — without having to use human effort or specialized programs like InDesign. It would also be possible to include images, have selections for color schemes, etc., make family trees, etc. pp. It would also be possible to create a completely digital version on a website — some kind of Facebook starting with year 0 of the child.
    However, I would keep it paper-based and the content hand-written — it’s a book about thoughts, expectations, wishes, memories, etc. for a child, which is deeply personal and works best in personal handwriting. Sure, paper has its disadvantages, but that’s why it’s spiral bound — if there are really terrible mistakes, the pages can be changed. So I would probably go for a more Filofax-file-folder based solution, but I would make damn sure that the number of pages are kept below 500. It should be one book with the essence of the first 18 years of the child, not a large collection nobody looks at them afterwards because there is just too much information. And yes, tags would help in sorting the information, but I still think that a few well-placed questions and a retrospective evaluation of each year (with the help of some notes) is more useful.
    Hmm, and yes, I think it would make a nice business selling these books, especially if nice file folder like styles are offered and the paper is really endurable.
    To get a better impression of the book, here are some photos (Charlotte Elisabeth Reussner is the name of the child, Eva is the name of the mother, Ralf the name of the father):

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