Thursday, May 26, 2011


The words under my name on my forthcoming business cards will read "Librarian/Conservator". I don't know that my employer has ever supplied me with an official title, so when it was time to order business cards those were the words I chose for myself.

These words and their order reflect how I perceive myself in my work. I am a librarian and I am a conservator, but librarian comes before conservator. Or, I'm a librarian who conserves and not a conservator who works in a library. My work is first and foremost about the library - it is about helping the library fulfill its mission. This may explain why, though my hands (and my job description) are all about object conservation, my head is more and more about the broader issues of preservation. By its very nature preservation seems more institutionally focused than is conservation.

I'm sure this self-perception is in part due to the fact that I've worked in libraries longer than I've done conservation,. I've also worked (and continue to work) in a variety of areas within the library giving me an understanding/appreciation for the library as an institution with diverse functions and a broad mission.

I suspect that my library-first approach is also due to the fact that the objects I work on generally do not have the same degree of distinct value that museum/art objects do. The library object derives more of its value because it is part of a collection held within an institution. (The whole of the library is greater than the sum of its parts.)

While I am obviously interested in the issues and techniques of book conservation, I approach these issues and techniques through the lens of the library. I am not a member of AIC or ALA, but if I were to invest in membership and meeting attendance my first choice would be ALA. (My main motivation for attending either organization's meetings would be to meet people - an "in-the-flesh" Facebook experience.)

I'm not suggesting that my work "orientation" is the preferred orientation for everyone who does conservation in a library setting. Others in this field are stronger on conservation and they add a lot to the profession that I can't.

I do think it is important to understand and appreciate the larger institutional context of the items we work on, and the stuff I work on is in a library, and I am a librarian.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Internet Archive's Physical Archive

I noted with interest that the famed archiver of the internet, and provider of free and open access to digitized materials (i.e. not Google), The Internet Archive, recently announced an open house for their new physical archive space.

They describe the place as
  • A high density, modular system for storing books, video and audio
  • A temp controlled environment for long-term preservation
  • Our new logistics facility that will catalog and coordinate large collections of books records and movies.
It will initially hold over 300,000 books, and they are "gearing up for millions."

They don't say what are the physical materials they will be holdings, and more importantly, why they have decided to build a physical collection. I'm assuming this is to hold materials they intend to keep for a long time, and not just things in the queue to be digitized. I will do a little more searching, but I do hope they explain further their understanding of the function of this collection. I am reminded, however, of Gary Frost and his ongoing defense of the role of physical collections in relation to their digital surrogate. "We confirm their back-up, mastering, and authentication roles in support of digital research." (From a recent post.)

The Same Ax, Twice

The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throwaway Age by Howard Mansfield.

After my adventure with Gumbrecht, Same Ax, Twice was a light summer read - a welcome change.

It is a book filled with stories about people and their relationship to the past, and especially the material stuff and places of the past. There are lots of well-told stories of re-enactors, and collectors, and restorers. They are stories of people living very intentionally in relationship to their sense of the past. They are stories of people attempting to capture and portray the fact and spirit of the past, from what does it take to be a true civil war re-enactor, to what kind constitutes a true reproduction of a Wright Brothers plane.

As a book filled with lots of narrative, it doesn't confront the reader with a lot of challenging data and concepts, but gradually builds its case. As the book nears its end the author reflects on the various stories told and their connecting themes of nostalgia, our sense of home and place, and our relationship to our physical environment.

Unlike most of the other books I've read for this blog, this book did not cause a flurry of note-taking, making for a more casual reading experience, but it is a thoughtful book.

I'll close this brief post with a quote from the last page of the book.

"Renewal. Ours is an age of broken connections, lost connections between heart and work, soul and politics, community and the self. Restoration is renewal -- an effort to mend the world -- or else it is not worth doing. Good restoration is a prayer, an offering. It's praise, attention paid; it revels in the glory and spirit of this life." (p. 276)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Preserving Digital News

The Center for Research Libraries recently issued a report Preserving News in the Digital Environment: Mapping the Newspaper Industry in Transition.

There is also a webinar to discuss the issues of this report, however, as best I can tell, you have to be part of a CRL member institution to participate. I'm hoping that registering as a "self-appointed, honorary" member of some CRL member institution will work as well ;-)

I've also been watching the posted videos of the presentations at the Newspaper Archive Summit held Apr. 10-12 at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

I'd suggest there are two (but not only two) ways to approach the issue of preserving newspapers..

1) Preserve what newspapers/news providers produce as a record of what they produced.
2) Preserve documentation about local community, often best recorded in the local newspaper.

The  CRC report is actually hardly about preservation at all - it is really about understanding the techniques for how digital news content is created, managed, and presented. My interest lies more in the area of what should we preserve, but I appreciate and think there is good value in developing a deep technical understanding of digital news content creation. It's comparable to  hearing from people who have a deep understanding of medieval bookbinding. Or, as in the case of the recent Permanence Matters conference looking at the production and use of "permanent" paper. This technical knowledge of how items were created and how they must be preserved must be in conversation with the curatorial decisions of what to collect and preserve.

While the permanent paper approach is intended to actually influence the materials content producers use, I don't get the impression that the digital newspaper preservation crowd, at least as represented by this report, is intending to influence how newspaper publishers go about creating and providing access to their content. This report approaches preservation by starting at the source where the product to be preserved is produced. The goal is to understand how the content is created and published and how to use that knowledge to shape its preservation.

While the focus of the report is on the technical aspects, it also, if tangentially, addresses some of the questions of content. "Media convergence and consolidation in the news industry, however, is creating even more uniformity of practice today. As local newspapers are acquired by larger media groups, many production practices are being dictated by the home office." (p. 24) It is not just uniformity of practice, but, and I would argue more importantly, uniformity of content. Do you need to preserve all the mid-market Gannett papers when so much of their content, editorial approach, and formatting is identical?

I think it is important to step back a little and ask ourselves what it is that newspapers provide, and is its value worth preserving. And, how has what newspapers provide changed over their long history. American newspapers of 50, 100, and 150 are quite different creatures.

"The newer model of the news Web, however, is exemplified by, the Hearst Seattle Media’s “flagship site.” Like the Wisconsin State Journal site, also focuses heavily on information of local interest, such as crime, regional politics, and local sports teams. But is even more fundamentally different from its now defunct predecessor, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. It features not only original staff reporting and breaking news, but blogs by staff and readers, links to other journalism and news Web sites, community databases, and photo galleries. Through partnerships with other Seattle media (i.e., radio and television broadcasters), also has access to video and audio produced by their local staff." (pp. 52-53)

I think the quote above demonstrates one of the promising things I developing in newspaper's websites - and this impression is based on very little research. It seems hat what newspaper websites have more of than their print counterpart is local information. As the report about the Seattle site listed, this local information is gathered from a variety of sources, staff, readers, other sources in the creation of a community information center. If newspapers publishers and libraries were smart they would talk to each other and work together - using that whole "synergy" thing - as they both have things to offer and benefit from such a community information center.

"Their websites function as regional portals to a much larger and more dynamic realm of text, image, and multimedia information, combining with the content produced in their local newsrooms content and applications produced by third-parties and even by consumers themselves. The presence of this content dramatically changes the nature and impact of the news reported and the experience of the user." (p. 53)

One thing I did not read about in this report is the issue of context. Issue and page layout creates a visual/informational context for the news story. In the U.S. Newspaper Project and more currently in the National Digital Newspaper Project the newspaper page is considered important as a provider of context. What does the idea of context mean in the digital realm. The visual context of digital news is fugitive, at best. As newspaper content is more segmented/detachable, the page and its layout is decreasing in importance. How will this decontextualization of new articles affect preservation?

I'm glad to have the opportunity to listen in to these conversations that about the changing shape of news production and preservation, and I'm encouraged by how many people are interested and involved in these discussions.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Redesigning Your Library, Protecting Your Library event in Michigan

Mideastern Michigan Library Cooperative
Mott Community College Library
Invite you to attend:

Redesigning Your Library….
and Protecting Your Library

Guest Speakers:
Amy Fugate, Vice President Academic Affairs - Mott Community College
Larry Koehler, Executive Director/Architect - Physical Plant  - Mott Community College
Alyce Riemenschneider, Principal/Senior Designer - Riemenschneider Designs
Amanda Krok, Planning And Commissioning Coordinator – Phys. Plant - Mott Community College
Kathy Irwin, Library Director - Mott Community College
Shannon Zachary, Head, Preservation and Conservation - University of Michigan
Ed Burns, Interim Director - Ferndale Public Library (Water)
Cledos Powell, Assistant Director for Facilities - Detroit Public Library (Fire)
Kate Pohjola, Director - Lapeer District Library (Mold)

This informative workshop will provide you with the ins and outs of library redesign and guide you through the planning needed to protect your investment through disaster recovery planning.  Tours of the newly renovated Mott College Library will be available. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011, 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Mott Community College Library
1401 E. Court Street, Flint, MI 48503
3rd Floor Center for Teaching & Learning Room

$40.00 MMLC Members
$50.00 Non-MMLC Members
(includes a boxed lunch)

.5 CEU’s available
Reservations now being accepted at Mideastern Michigan Library Cooperative.
To register, phone (810) 232-7119; fax (810) 232-6639 or email

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Inherent Vice

I'm reading "The Same Ax, Twice" and this little thought came to me during my reading.

"Inherent vice." I've heard and used that expression so often for things like the problems of wood pulp paper - the lignin, the acid, etc. But now, upon reading that phrase, it occurred to me - we are declaring what is naturally appropriate to an object as a vice?

Vices are bad things - things that should be stopped (or done, but with a guilty conscience knowing that you really shouldn't.) The inherent vices of materials, as I understand them, are those things within the materials that cause their own decay.

Is a flower loosing its petals the "inherent vice" of the flower? Is becoming a teenager an "inherent vice" of being a child?

Woodpulp paper decays quickly, because that is the natural life of its chemical and physical construction. Is that bad? I guess it seems bad if we are wanting to keep the woodpulp paper in good condition for a long period of time, but the problem seems to be our high desires or expectations for a material that has no business meeting those high desires and expectations. And because it won't do what we want, we say it is riddled with vice - it must be bad and we must try to reform it.

The language of "inherent vice" seems to have a demonizing-the-enemy quality to it. If we use enough bad language about it, the funders will give us money to fight it. Maybe we should create a new conservation category - "evildoers." "Lignin is an evildoer. It must be eradicated and the cellulose must be liberated." That would get the NEH's attention.

This little reflection is not to imply that I think we should give up on trying to preserving things that are hard to preserve, but just a though about our use of the language of "inherent vice." That said, I'm thinking about adding a sign in my shop that reads "Vice Squad."