A digital archival story with a happy ending! (plus, it’s about food)

Last weekend, as I was meal prepping for the week, I came across and episode of Proof (the America’s Test Kitchen podcast) that made me think about this class.

The episode focuses on a website that I knew nothing about, but that it’s my new obsession: The Food Timeline, created by Lynne Olver in 1999. Lynne Olver was a reference librarian with a passion for food history, who started the website to answer people’s questions about the topic.

As you can see, the website looks old-fashioned, with the typical aesthetic of late-90s Internet Explorer. Another thing you can notice immediately is that the contents are MASSIVE. Lynn Olver was the only person maintaining the website, answering people’s research requests, and collecting food history books. As of 2014, The Food Timeline served 35 million readers and answered 25 thousand questions.

But what does this website have to do with our class?

Lynne Olver dreamed of making The Food Timeline her full-time occupation after she retired, but unfortunately she passed away in 2015. Her family was left with the question of what to do with the website – and the massive collection of books and magazines that Olver had accumulated throughout the years.

Luckily, in 2020 Virginia Tech University Libraries and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) became the new home for the website and the book collection. This way, Virginia Tech students can have access to these materials and work on their preservation (including the site maintenance!).

I wanted to share this website with you all, first of all because it’s a gold mine of fun facts about food and drink. The second reason – the one related to the class – is that I find that the agreement with Virginia Tech is a good example of “postmortem” archival practices that really take into consideration the afterlife of a collection. After hearing so many stories of archival neglect, this was a breath of fresh air!

To learn the whole story, you can listen to Episode 2 of Proof, The Curious Curator of Culinary History, here!