Saturday, February 6, 2010

The difference between Realia and Ephemera

First, some standard dictionary definitions for those people.

Realia: Objects that are real.  Objects that teach you about the real world.  Manipulative Manipulatable, three-dimensional things. Usually refers to games, educational objects, toys, models.  Realia is generally non-print: not paper, audio, or visual mediums.

Ephemera: "The minor transient objects of everyday life".
Informational/educational objects that either do not last for a long time or were not intended to last for a long time, such as tickets.  Usually refers to printed matter, since paper breaks down relatively quickly (as compared to, say, stone).

Read on, oh curious one....

In AACR2, Realia has a chapter.  It has a general material descriptor.  Ephemera does not.  A brief record is not going to scream Ephemera at you:  it's location  might tip you off (George Carlin Fortune Cookie Fortune Collection, 2nd floor), it's measurements (0.25 linear feet), or maybe a nice cataloger put ephemera in the 655 field.
Measurements for ephemera (and realia sometimes) are a little weird. Instead of referring to the exact dimensions of each item,  it refers to the amount of space the item(s), as part of a collection, take up.
This is good.  It would be very hard to determine the thickness of a piece of paper without calipers on every desk.
So the cataloger puts a bunch of ephemera in a box and puts that box with some other boxes (all archival quality, of course) and then measures how much space they take up.  In the record for that BOX, they give you an overview, as inclusive as possible but not exhaustive, or what kind of specimens are in there.
Now here's something interesting.   "The collection consists of a few of the clippings, correspondence, awards, photos, printed material and ephemera".
Clippings, correspondence, awards, and vaguely defined printed material ARE ephemera.  Is there something in this collection that is more ephemeral than that?  Some air?

I like this : 
655_7 |a Clippings (information artifacts). |2 aat

I personally have several collections of information artifacts I need to put in my scrapbook.

I'll talk about specimens, the Descriptive Catalog of Rare Materials, grey literature, Rules for Archival description, later.