Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Print/Digital Preservation Divide

First I posted Paul Banks’ “10 Laws of Preservation.” Then I posted Dave Thompson’s “10 Laws of Digital Preservation.” Then Archival Products published their latest issue of Archival Products News with an article I co-wrote with Lance Stuchell, digital preservation librarian at the University of Michigan, titled “Bridging the Print/Digital Preservation Divide.”

The world of library and archives preservation – which is the work world I most identify with – is divided. But in saying it is divided I am not sure whether I am stating fact, opinion, or proposing a framework to look at preservation. I guess the reality is – it feels divided (which makes it more of a statement of truthiness.)

This division is increasingly characterizing my professional life. On Monday I get on a plane to attend Archive-It and Best Practices Exchange meeting – two meetings focused on acquiring and preserving digital content. Upon my return from these meetings I immediately turn my attention to speedily moving my work’s conservation shop – including things like a 500 pound cast iron press – down one floor to its new home. At this summer’s meeting of the Mid-Michigan Digital Practitioners meeting I presented on preserving digital state government documents. In a couple weeks I will present on constructing custom clamshell boxes at a Conservation and Collection Care Camp – that I am helping organize.

I am not telling you these things to let you know how vast and impressive my skills are – although I won’t try to stop you from coming to that conclusion on your own – but this is simply to relate that I feel like I have one fit firmly planted in print/analog preservation and the other foot is perhaps not quite as firmly planted, but it is well within the world of digital preservation.  And this leaves me to sometimes ponder – are these two feet walking down the same path? Are they walking down parallel paths? Or divergent paths? Also, does the fact that I have two left feet doom met to stumble and land flat on my face?

I don’t think I’m being too generalizing when I say that the two foci of preservation have resulted in two camps of practitioners. I’m going to guess there is not a lot of overlap in the NDSA/AIC venn diagram.

An intent of Lance and myself with our rather informal back and forth piece was for practitioners of print and digital preservation to address some common question about our work. I don’t know that this piece presents any profound new insights, but I hope that it might spur others ask and answer similar questions and have similar conversations. (As I just reread the article I did cringe a little wishing I could take it back and rewrite some of my sentences – but it’s done, which is more important than being perfect.)

If the preservation world is divided, is there a big umbrella understanding of preservation that can capture the interests and concerns of both print and digital preservation? If there is such a big picture understanding, to get that big picture do you have to pull so far back so as to lose sight of the details and therefore lose relevancy for the practitioner?

When I look at the two sets of “10 laws” my first response is these are very different lists. I don’t mean to exaggerate difference between disciplines, but I also don’t want to blur or gloss over differences. I am led to wonder – what are the commonalities? I would be curious to see someone – although it really couldn’t be “one” but some group – come up with a set of “10 agreements between print and digital preservation.” What are 10 mutual and meaningful understandings or agreements of the work we do?

1 comment:

  1. One approach to binaries such as “print/digital” is to look between; resolve the relation itself. Let’s suggest “print/screen” (all print is digital now). But that also turns out an inadequate binary. What about “static/animated” if we try to layer in so called time-based media. …er, no. What about “copy/original” or “book/document” or “canonic/ephemera” or “physical/virtual” or “parsed/latent” or “wild/domestic”….

    My suggestion is “Don’t Be the Binary”. Don’t go there. Be feral and look exactly between. Note for example the eerie relevance of a recent CIC approach to analog magnetic that is useful across any medial sector. It is also useful to prefer a format perspective. I am very book-centric and always look to the longer-term resilience of book transmission.