Revisiting the Guatemalan Police Archive
How can we process 80 million pages of historical documents?
The question is a philosophical one, about the ability of our minds to conceive of such a large number of documents. The Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive, AHPN) in Guatemala City contains about eighty million documents, or about 135 years of records from the National Police of Guatemala.
According to one estimate, that means the collection requires about three-quarters of a mile worth of shelf space. In comparison, the Gabriel García Márquez collection at the Harry Ransom Centertakes up about 33.18 feet of shelf space. The Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection take up about 125 feet.
The question is also a technical one, about the difficulty of gathering, organizing, and providing access to an inconceivably large collection. For over a decade, archivists at the AHPN have been racing to clean, organize, and catalogue these historical records. In 2010, the University of Texas at Austin partnered with the AHPN to build an online portal to a digital version of the archive.