Marian Keyes becomes first Irish writer to donate digital archive
Author expected ‘well-awarded man’ would be first asked by National Library of Ireland for material
Author Marian Keyes is pictured as the National Library of Ireland announces details of a pilot scheme to expand the ways it collects the ‘born-digital’ story of Ireland. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times.
Throughout history the motivations of significant people have been excavated by the papers they have left behind them. Letters, diaries, handwritten notes and postcards are all essential to improving our understanding of the reasons why people did the things that they did.
Many well-known people wrote letters and diaries in the expectation that biographers and historians would pore over them after their death.
The present generation is the best connected in history with social media, instant messaging and email among their means of communicating. However, these could leave nothing like the traces that previous generations have when people in the future attempt to understand us. The dangers of this were underlined by the fate of MySpace, which lost all the music uploaded by its users between 2003 and 2015.
The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has announced details of a pilot scheme to expand the ways it collects the “born-digital” story of Ireland - allowing content like videos and digital documents to become part of the national collections. The first to donate part of her digital archive is the author Marian Keyes following a request from the library.
She has donated book cover samples, drafts and preproofs - some with editor’s comments relating to her 2012 novel The Mystery of Mercy Close. Keyes wrote the book while going through periodic bouts of depression and there are long gaps when she wrote nothing.
She said it was “such an honour” to be the first to be chosen when the expectation might be that a “well-awarded man” would be selected given that society tends to take male writers more seriously than women writers.
“I have so many version of this book because I had a bad bout of mental health that went on when I was writing it,” she said. “I had gaps that went on for months when I wrote nothing. For long spells during it I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it. It demonstrates eventually how projects can get finished.”
Keyes believes her archive will be of interest to writers in particular as it demonstrates how to get through the often torturous process of writing a novel.
“It demonstrates the importance of making mistakes and ultimately keeping going. It shows how timelines get turned around and how I change characters’ names. I write a lot of stuff that I end up having to cut,” she said.
Keyes said she is not a private person and that her digital imprint shows who she is. “It is obvious that I am left of centre, that I am a bleeding heart liberal and a feminist and that I get cranky about a lot of things. That’s all there.”
Following the pilot scheme, the library intends to scale-up its acquisitions and to encourage donations of digital archives, with the processes and practices behind collecting being tried and tested by the current initiative.
Dr Sandra Collins, director of the library, said the preservation of digital records was a challenge for all national libraries.
“It is really hard. You have to get it, keep it safe and be able to render it authentically in the future. That is the hard stuff,” she said. “We will have to have emulators so that even if the software and the computer is replaced, we will still have to recreate that authentic experience.”