Saving Paper for Posterity

6th June 2014

Beowulf manuscript


Have you been to the British Library? It’s quite a trek if you’re outside London, I know, but it’s a fascinating place, not least the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which houses some of the real “treasures”.

Here you’ll find everything from the Gutenberg Bible to Charles Darwin’s diaries discussing evolution, Jane Austen’s literature to Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, the ancient manuscript of the Old English poem Beowulf to the modern music phenomenon which is the Beatles.

Looking at these manuscripts, some painstakingly illustrated on vellum, others scribbled on whatever was handy – John Lennon wrote Hard Day’s Night on the back of his son Julian’s birthday card – one can’t help wondering what future generations will keep. So few people write letters to their loved ones these days, most authors will be tapping away on their laptops rather than writing in a notebook , so that we may never again make that personal connection to their handwriting. Even worse, words of immense power and wisdom may be stored in an obsolete online server, never to be seen again – who knows what masterpieces were lost on floppy discs across the land?

Now I’m not saying that our paper bills and statements are of any literary merit. But they do have worth in that they allow people to keep up with what they are spending, to more easily spot any mistakes, and also to file away, so that when you want to track your electricity spending for instance, you can look back and see what you were paying three years ago. With online only, there is no set standard for the length of time companies archive.

That’s why we want people to keep the choice of having paper bills free of charge. And you never know, when inspiration strikes, your paper bill might serve the added purpose of a handy piece of paper  on which you can jot down the lyrics to the next number 1. And it might just end up in the British Library! 

Judith Donovan