Saturday, September 29, 2012

Organizing for Preservation

There is a newly forming preservation related organization in Michigan – the Michigan Collections Network. I have been intimately involved in its creation and working with it has been and continues to be a good learning experience.

The initial motivation behind it was my own frustration at not having local opportunities to discuss the issues pertinent to the work I do. This past year I traveled to the ALA annual and a couple CONTENTdm and other digital preservation events out of state and was very rewarded by the experience of meeting and sharing with others who do similar work. My problems with these experiences, however, are that going to Anaheim for a week, paid for on my own, is a little pricey, plus the people I meet are in institutions far away from me. Additionally, when I have had the opportunity to talk with other Michigan library and archive people who are interested in similar preservation topics I perceive this same sense of aloneness – of not having colleagues they can talk with and learn from.

So, because I’ve got more than a few restless bones in my body, I proceeded to see what I could do about this. It began with my creating a survey. One of my initial challenges is how narrow or broad to cast the possible focus of the group. In my own work, my time is spread across physical conservation, digitization, and digital preservation, and while that is a large spread it is an interrelated group of topics. More importantly, however, they are the topics I want to talk about so they were the topics I asked about. The survey was intended to gauge interest in forming a group focused on these topics and possible activities of this group. I sent the survey out to the Michigan libraries listserv and the listserv of the Michigan Archival Association. It seemed sensible to me to limit the scope of this potential new group to libraries and archives – or at least to library and archive collections, regardless of where they were held. While there is value to considering preservation issues of all cultural heritage collections, that becomes such a broad scope that it is much harder to create a unified vision – when you are concerned about everything it is hard to do any one thing. The survey received about 70 enthusiastic responses. I was pleased by the number or responses and that the responses represented all types and sizes of library and archive institutions.

From the list of survey respondents I formed a planning group which has met a few time via conference call. The planning group has proven to be a good microcosm of all survey respondents – representing varied institutions, experiences, abilities and interests. Some of our first challenges is coming up with some definition to what this group will be about. What people wanted from this potential group was not surprisingly pretty much anything and everything they could hope for – workshops, a source of funding, a community to establish standards, and opportunities for collaboration. As the de-facto organizer of the group I had some particular desires of what I wanted to see, and perhaps more importantly, what I didn’t want to see. I am not interested in forming an organization that spends most of its energy being an organization. With this project I pushed for the approach of let’s do some things, and see what kind of organization evolves, and the planning group has been very graciously receptive.

The Name: we’ve settled – mostly – on the name Michigan Collections Network. I initially was playing around with names that included both Preservation and some variant of Digital in the name – but those words are too long and cumbersome. Michigan Collections Network came to me in the middle of the night and I like it because it is easy, and reasonably open in meaning – giving us the space to change what this group does without having to change our name. Our more explanatory tag line is “A network interested in preserving and providing access to library and archival print and digital collections.”

We’ve done the usual early things like set up a blog and a listserv. We have even organized our first event dedicated to grant funding for collection preservation and digitization – thank goodness for people who agree to speak at no cost. Timothy Chester, director emeritus of the Grand Rapids Public Museum will speak on the general topic of grant funding for cultural collections, and then a panel of representatives from 3 libraries will speak grant funded preservation and digitization projects they have worked on. (Plus I’ll be offering tours of my library’s conservation and digitization departments.) And the event is free! (Registration information for the workshop is available online.)

We’ll see where this group goes. We know that it will be important for us to form relationships with other relevant Michigan groups for potential future collaborations. At this point we are doing what we can with no budget although my employer is providing some organizational support. My hope and intent for the group is that it truly fosters a network of colleagues who can share and learn from each other’s experiences. I hope that it can provide the opportunity for colleagues to share their successes (and failures) and questions and can feel better equipped to do their work well.


  1. Kevin - Thanks for promoting our Colloquium tonight! I would like to mention the MCN in my opening remarks today if that is alright with you!

  2. Kim - that would be great if you could mention MCN. Looking forward to this evening's event.