Saturday, November 11, 2017

AFU and UFO Research

”Too much of a good thing can be  wonderful”. This classic aphorism from actress May West is actually a very apt description of the present state - and problems - of AFU. The ”too much of a good thing” is the avalanche of archives from all over the world that has been donated to us, especially during the last two or three years. ”Wonderful”, of course, but it has also resulted in several, initially not expected, problems and even in some ways been detrimental to our own private research efforts and AFU´s general promotion of UFO research. I became acutely aware of this dilemma a couple of days ago upon receiving an email from my AFU colleague Anders Liljegren who described his growing frustration at the present mission impossible situation at AFU.

Where to find space for this collection? Anders Liljegren July 1, 2009

Here are a few quotes from Anders´ letter summarizing some of the current problems:

"What is an archive without ordered files?  Without the good order and a long-time plan for how to handle mega-large collections (such as from FSR, CFI, CEI and BSRA), AFU cannot survive as an idea. The daily work at AFU is extremely dependent on my own involvement and knowledge of the materials and its background(s). Every day I have a steady stream of questions from our five employees and another five or ten of our volunteers.

The goal is to have a good and sensible control over how the AFU files develop, to establish routines and maybe new cross-collection files and indexes that helps us and the researcher.
Decisions must be made on how to arrange files and where to keep them (in any of our thirteen facilities). Processes going on must be checked for quality so that we are sure that the end result will be good preserved files in a workable order for the future.

Anders hard working at the Evans library, November 16, 2010

Digitalization is an important point here, but cannot be allowed to control the whole process. First comes a good order to paper and media files, after that we can talk about digitization of small selected parts which are deemed of high interest to a fairly large number of customers world-wide. Digitization of the holdings of the full contents of any archive is considered unrealistic fantasies even by major archive institutions. And such institutions ought to have resources that AFU will never come to have.
Spending time and resources on engaging unemployed people, like we have done during the past seven - eight years is not profitable to the AFU foundation, unless we are, somehow, paid for doing this. Between 2009 and 2016 AFU had good income from putting many unemployed people on projects to order and digitize simple collections. This good income is no longer in place.

There may have been some 50 different persons with us during this period. The energy spent to organize all this has been worth the while mainly because we had more than 6 million SEK coming into the foundation as direct and indirect support from the Swedish government.
This has never happened to any private ufo-related project before, anywhere in the world. Not even with funding from rich private patrons. If I had had the 6 million SEK directly in my hands I would have found much more effective ways of organizing our work than to run-around instructing or trying to motivate people who have been out of the regular job market for 10-20 years.

We have hundreds of large and small “forgotten” heaps of papers in almost every corner. Some of these documents may be of great importance if they are filed in a researchable framework (by subject, by organization, by date). Now they are not. Another example: A good part of 2017 I have spent on going through and checking parts of our magazine store. Week-long projects where I have dived into the mags from country-after-country, checking up shelf contents and comparing with my database. Often re-filing the mags into new and better folders or acid-free boxes to preserve them better. That work will have to continue; there are still many countries to work on.

Together with Anders, reviewing the BSRF archive August 2, 2016

 In the period 2012-2016 I had three different men working with this filing of magazines from all over the world. I could do introductions working with each for about a week and continued routine checks on their work. In hindsight I now discover that many magazines have been misplaced in all corners of the store and much previous work has/had to be re-done. Last week we found a good batch of Norwegian mags in a box of Danish mags while the Danish that should have been there were missing. Mags published from Spain are routinely found on our South American shelves – and vice versa. Magazines in English have routinely been filed as American.

Absolutely no shade should fall on those kind and well-meaning people who worked for us, they were maybe just ignorant or didn’t dare to ask? Anyway, these are but small examples of all the problems that should be corrected before AFU continues to accept new collections at the “avalanche” rate of speed we have had during the past ten years.”

These are but some of the present AFU problems discussed by Anders Liljegren. What we really need now is a large intermediate storage facility where incoming collections can be placed awaiting to be reviewed and catalogued. But as of now we simply do not have the money to hire premise no 14. More sponsors are needed. We do not want to say no to donors of archives. It is better to have archives stored at AFU than dumped or scattered on many hands.

Clas Svahn with a unique sign donated to AFU, October 21, 2012

 March 17, 1973 is the official founding date of AFU. We were three young ufologists, inspired by Jacques Vallee and John Keel, critical of the prevalent ETI information ideology in the Swedish UFO community. Instead we wanted to concentrate on research and documentation. In the information sheet sent out we motivated our point of view partly with a quote from Jacques Vallee´s Passport To Magonia:
”There is a tendency among the believers to gather into large, very formal organizations, whre they waste all there energy and, sometimes, a good deal of money, with practically no visible result. It is clear that such organizations answer a psychological need rather than a genuine desire to discover the answer to an interesting intellectual problem. Maintaining such a group implies a tremendous overhead… and experience shows that research is always tha last activity it can afford. Instead, these groups generate so much internal bitterness and so many interorganizational feuds that they prove to be serious obstacles to independent researchers who are simply trying to get firsthand data and do not care to support one particular personality or theory against another.” (p. 158)

In a certain sense we are today back at square one as in 1973. We have very little time to spend on personal research projects as the avalance of archives donated to AFU takes most of our time. Especially is this the situation for Anders Liljegren who often spend more than eight hours work at the archive, taking care of the day-to-day routines. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be complicated.