Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Preservation Imperative" the podcast

I've expanded my preservation media empire with the creation of the podcast "Preservation Imperative." 

You can find out more about the podcast and listen to my introductory episode on it's website. You can also find it on iTunes or subscribe to it on the iPhone podcast app or on Stitcher.You can also follow the show's twitter feed @preservationimp 

Preservation Imperative is my new effort to learn more about the preservation world, and to share what I learn with others. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Finding the Personal in Preservation

I find my interests in all things preservation have changed over the years. Early on I was wowed and inspired by interesting bindings and intriguing techniques. Preservation was for me primarily a set of tools and techniques that were applied to objects or environments for the purposed of solving a problem. I was motivated to learn these tools and techniques as best I could to help do my part to solve this problem. (Note: I don't know that there was much time spent thoughtfully identifying, reflecting on, or fully understanding the what exactly the problem was.)

In the past few years, however, I've found that my attention has shifted. I'm increasingly interested in reflecting on what we think these tools and techniques of preservation are supposed to be accomplishing - what really does preservation mean and why do we value it so? I think those interests have been increasingly reflected in my past blog posts.

Another question that I am finding a greater interest in is WHO are we in relation to our preservation activities and our preservation desires?

I started exploring this in my Portraits in Preservation project a couple years ago, but that only whetted my appetite for more, and deeper attention directed to the personal in preservation.

For as scientific and impersonal as literature about preservation tends to be, I know that this work is done by genuine human beings who have personal motivations for why they are doing what they are doing, and who are personally shaped by their work. I want to hear, and share, those stories.

For most people, myself included, preservation is part of my professional life, and revealing inner personal motivations and deep-seated beliefs is not typical or possibly even acceptable professional conversation subject matter. I understand that this level of self-reflection and self-awareness may not come naturally to everyone. I, however, am congenitally contemplative, and derive great satisfaction out of pondering motivations and meanings.

My challenge is whether and how I can actually ask individuals to openly reflect on their life in preservation, share their stories with me, and then share them with others?

I'm moving in the direction of creating a podcast for this purpose. There are a few reasons for considering this format. I think talking to me for an hour is a request that is much easier to accomplish, than writing responses to my more probing questions. (I tried that with the Portraits project and I recognize that the time, motivation, and energy it takes to write thoughtful replies - when there is no penalty for not doing it - is a great disincentive.) I also really like the idea of hearing the personal reflections in the voice of that individual. Podcasts are, or at least can be, a very personal and intimate experience for the listener.

A few challenges lie in the way of me doing a podcast, but what's life without a few challenges. Part of my reason for posting this is more I put this out there, the more I will feel compelled and obliged to actually follow through.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting Started with Digital Preservation

A while ago Max Eckard, Digital Curation and Metadata Librarian at Grand Valley State University and I gave a presentation at the Michigan Library Association Annual Conference on getting started with digital preservation, our slides and notes appear below. (I hope)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Brittle Books: An interview with the filmmakers

Katie Sponseller and M. Allam are two film-makers in Chicago who are preparing to make a film titled “Our Brittle Books.” Not surprisingly, the title caught my attention. I viewed the video on the Kickstarter page for this film, and my interest grew. So, I contacted them to see if I could record them and share the interview.

This kind of interview and recording was a first for me. I am pleased with how it went. They were gracious and thoughtful guests. Discussion included: the transition from analog to digital, both with books, and film; trying to freeze a moment in time; mortality; and Peter Pan.

I encourage you to listen to the interview, and checkout all that’s on their Kickstarter page. And I encourage you support their Kickstarter for film. These are some creative, young minds exploring issues that are important to this time and relevant to the work we do in libraries, archives, and museums – and how we live our lives.

(Near the end of the interview Katie talks about an organization they are working with for a book drive. The organization is Bernie's Book Bank.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I still work with books

It occurred to me the other morning, as I was working on making a box that you faithful blog readers might be wondering if I even work with books anymore. There's been little on this blog recently that would demonstrate evidence of book-conservation activities.

Well, yup, I still work with books.

Conservation activities comprise less than 50% of my job description (if I actually had a job description) but I do still repair, and clean, and encapsulate, and make boxes.

I will confess, however, that my mind spends much more time thinking about digital collections and digital preservation than it spends thinking about our physical collections. Right now, the digital stuff feels like bigger, and more urgent problems to solve, while the conservation work has become simply tasks I do. They give me a broken book, I fix the broken book.

This arrangement is a product both of current staffing where I work - my responsibilities cover conservation, digitization, metadata, digital preservation, supervision, and more - and also of a perceived urgency of need. It's also a product of larger forces. I encounter many more twitter feeds, follow more conference hashtags, read more books about digital topics because in the library preservation world of 2014 that is the preponderance of content being created, And I find myself not just observing these digital discussions, but engaging with them as well. I'll be co-presenting on digital preservation at a conference next week, and possibly about digital legal collections next month.

I find my experience with preserving physical collections often informs how I think about digital collections. When thinking about digital collection stuff, I often find myself asking how what is this issue's correlate in the analog world, and how has it been managed in our physical collections.

But, I am glad to still find the time to put on my apron, pull out my tools, and cut and paste, and construct and destruct, and build up a layer of pva on my fingers, so I can have fun pulling it off.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reading "Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion"

Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion: Information Policy and the Public Library by Kim M. Thompson, Paul T. Jaeger, Natalie Greene Taylor, Mega Subramaniam, and John Carlo Bertot.

Preservation is not an island. The information and artifacts we preserve do not exist solely to be preserved. Preservation is an important part of the larger context of the world of institutionally based information and artifacts. It can be helpful at times to step back from the binder’s bench, or the hard drive and observe and learn from other aspects of the life and purpose of the information and artifacts we preserve.

I approached Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion with two interests: 1) The topic of the book is not something I’ve given much thought to and I’m just curious to know more, 2) What does this topic have to say to issues of preservation, and what does preservation have to say to this topic? (Okay, that may be three interests.)

I’ll provide a very brief summary of what the book has to say, and then address where preservation fits in.

In a sentence, this book is about looking at government policies that use public libraries to foster digital literacy and inclusion; both how it has happened, and how it could or should happen.

It is important to understand the definitions the authors are working from.
Digital literacy: “the ability to use the Internet to meet informational needs.”
Digital inclusion: “access to the Internet in order to apply the skills of digital literacy.” (p. 1)

The authors assert that access happens on three levels – physical, intellectual, social. Physical: do people have physical access to the hardware and connection necessary to encounter digital information? Intellectual: can people understand the digital information they have access to, e.g. is it in a language they understand? Social: this one is the most abstract but it includes questions like, do people access online information? Are there cultural customs or norms that affect information availability and use?

The authors make a strong connection between digital inclusion and social justice and interests of social justice run throughout the book. “The link between social exclusion and the digital divide has indeed become one of the defining characteristics of digital exclusion because of the strong link between those traditionally marginalized and those negatively affected by increasing reliance on technology.” (p. 28)

Public libraries in the United States are the nexus of digital inclusion and literacy. Federal programs like E-rate help provide broadband access to libraries, and governments increasingly rely on public libraries to work as intermediaries providing online access to government services and information.

The authors provide three national model case studies of digital inclusion: South Korea, Netherlands, and Australia. In these brief studies they provide summaries of demographics and rates of digital inclusion, as well as highlight what roles public libraries play, and what types of government policies are in place. Compared to the U.S. these countries tended to have more homogenous populations, and stronger centralized government.

The authors also provide three studies of countries moving toward digital inclusion: Columbia, Honduras, and Ghana. It was noteworthy that public libraries did not have a strong presence in any of these countries, but relatively inexpensive access is often available through internet cafes.

Government’s initial policy and interest early on is about providing physical access – providing hardware and connectivity. From there policies need to move to issues of intellectual and social access.

The final chapter, “Recommendations for Practice, Advocacy, and Research” is the chapter I would give to policy makers and related folks. Based on the extensive research documented throughout the book, (and it is extensive and documented) the authors focus on the policies necessary to enable public libraries to flourish as agents of digital literacy and inclusion. “Public libraries are evolving into community institutions that … meet a wide range of community needs but digital literacy and digital inclusion remain at the center of all of [sic?] initiatives.” (p. 133)

The authors make the case that public libraries need to be included in digital literacy and inclusion policy discussions. They assert that public libraries need to be more vocal and stronger advocates for their cause. While I understand that assertion, it seems to me that every group with policy interests is posing that same challenge to their constituency. I’m not sure that everyone’s voice getting louder is a great way to get at the solution, but, apart from being a ridiculously wealthy campaign donor, I don’t have anything better to suggest.

To help foster the case for digital inclusion and literacy the authors recommend more research in the efficacy of digital inclusion programs as well as who uses digital literacy resources.

While I think this is a valuable book for policy makers, I think it is probably a more helpful and effective book for those who help influence policy as well as put policy into action, like state libraries, federal agencies, and state and national library organizations. The book also raises that I think anyone who deals with providing access to digital content should think about.

Okay, but this is a preservation blog. Where does preservation fit in to all this, you might ask? As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I think looking beyond our preservation interests to other’s interests in the information and artifacts we preserve can only be helpful.

Reading this book, however, did produce a few preservation related thoughts. The first ones are about what the digital inclusion and literacy interests might have to learn from preservation interests. And finally, what preservation minded folk might have to learn from these issues of inclusion and literacy.

The book speaks a lot about providing access, but doesn’t directly address the topic of providing sustained or ongoing access. It is important that someone be able to access some information today, but it is equally important that the information is also available in the future. This ongoing access is the concern of digital preservation. Policies need to be in place to ensure the information need to access is there whenever they need it and does not vanish due to poor planning.

Relatedly, personal digital literacy skills need to include knowledge of “personal digital archiving” (PDA). It is not enough to teach people how to access and create digital content, but they need to have a basic understanding of how to ensure their digital content, both online and offline, is maintained in a usable form for as long as they need it.

Finally, I think the charge the content of this book has for people working in digital preservation is to understand these more nuanced definitions of access – physical, intellectual, social – and then explore how we can do a better job of providing those levels of access.  

Okay, one more idea that just found its way into my head. Digital inclusion should also shape policies for what digital content is selected for preservation. Libraries and archives are actively preserving digital content and digital inclusion should mean not only do all communities have ability to engage digital content, but that they can also find their own voices preserved there.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Unforgettable ForgetIT (or is it?)

(One week after posting this I notice that I have a typo in the post title. Who knew there were 2 t's in unforgettable?)

I will admit, the first time I saw a tweet from the ForgetIT project I questioned whether it was some kind of spoof account. It used goofy academic language that to my not always so academic mind bordered on meaningless gibberish. I had a twitter conversation with a colleague about it. He thought it was a spoof.

It isn’t. And fortunately, that tweet was not my final, or definitive encounter with what this project.

As one who has written about death and destruction as they relate to preservation, the fact that there are people thinking about forgetting as it relates to preservation, makes me a little happy.

Below are links to a couple documents which I think do a pretty good job of explaining the project.

"Preservationand Forgetting: Friends or Foes?" by Nattiya Kanhabua and Claudia Niederée
A short and readable introduction to the problem the ForgeIt project is working on.

TowardsConcise Preservation by Managed Forgetting: Research Issues and Case Study” by Nattiya Kanhabua, Claudi Niederée, and Wolf Siberski. 
A more detailed explanation of the project and the challenges it will attempt to overcome.

I’ll post a handful of quotes which I think fairly characterize the project, and then add some comments. (All quotes will be taking from the first article, unless otherwise noted.)

"Can we learn from human remembering and forgetting in order to develop more advanced preservation technology?" (abstract)

"Our research goal is twofold: 1) to establish effective preservation for more concise and accessible digital memories, and 2) to enable the easier and wider adoption of preservation technology." (abstract)

"The concept of managed forgetting is inspired by the important role of forgetting in the human brain, where forgetting enables us to focus on the things that are relevant instead of drowning in details by remembering everything." (p.1-2)

“In this paper, we propose the introduction of the novel concept of managed forgetting as part of a joint information and preservation management process.” (TCPMF P .1)

 “There is a considerable gap between active information use and preservation activities.”  (TCPMF P.1)

Because digital preservation systems are often not linked to digital productions systems, like a cms, things are often kept online longer than its useful lifespan because no one dares delete it.

"With managed forgetting the system is able to detect such information, and to trigger forgetting actions, which can be taken from a wide variety of possible forgetting actions including elimination of redundancies, aggregation, modification of ranking, and finally, also deletion." (p.2)

Supports facilitated constant appraisal - where when once every piece of information in a collection needed to be kept but now a summary of the information is all that is necessary.

"We envision an idea of gradual forgetting, where complete digital forgetting is just the extreme and a wide range of different levels of condensation for preservation is foreseen." (p.4)

Need to move from binary model of active vs. archived to a seamless progression.

 “If no special actions are taken for long-term preservation, we already face a rather random digital forgetting process in the digital world today.” (TCP P.2)

In discussions of digital preservation, I often find myself thinking - Well, how did/do things happen with analog preservation and how might that inform how we approach digital preservation. But on an even grander scale I sometimes ponder, how did the things that we have that we think of as having been preserverd - or just plain old things - how did these things get to be here. Why are they here and not other things? I also increasingly find myself thinking about other disciplines that do something that they call preservation - or something synonymous - and what can I learn from their vision of preservation to information my world of library related preservation. (i.e. does conserving an ecosystem, or an underwater wreck have something to say about preserving a book?)

The project is built on model of the role of forgetting in the human brain, “important role of forgetting in the human brain, where forgetting enables us to focus on the things that are relevant instead of drowning in details by remembering everything.” (pp. 1-2)

While, the statement above feels reasonable to me, I would be curious if it is also accurate. I don’t mean that statement as a significant challenge to the authors, but they’ve piqued my curiosity and I’d like to see a reference that confirms their explanation of the role of forgetting in the human brain. I think for an approach to preservation that is so modeled on the human brain there isn’t a lot of foundational justification for the accuracy of that model.  (That being said, I don’t know if I particularly care if this is in fact an accurate representation of the human mind an forgetting – I think it is a worthwhile model to pursue regardless.)

It seems one argument with this human brain model is what if you consider human forgetting a flaw that can be compensated by technological remembering. We don't want our computers to learn to behave like our failing bodies, why would we want them to mimic our failing minds?

I would be curious to hear the author’s response. I’m not so sure I really think forgetting is a failing or feature of the mind, a feature to be mimicked, or overcome.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reading “Artifacts in Use: the paradox of restoration and the conservation of organs”

Artifacts in Use: the paradox of restoration and the conservation of organs by John R. Watson. OHS Press, Richmond, VA, 2010.

This book is about organ restoration and preservation which seems a pretty big stretch for its contents to be interesting or relevant to what I like to think about. The first half of the book, titled “The Philosophical Foundations of Organ Conservation,” is about using the example of the organ to discuss the underlying philosophy of restoration and preservation – and that’s something I can spend some time with.

The authors’ focus, as the title indicates, is particularly on objects for which there is some expectation of use. You can just look at an organ, but the purpose of the organ, at least at some point, was to be played and make music. The author’s definition of use appears to be human physical interaction. It could be argued that use is also applicable to things like paintings although their use – being in spaces and conditions where humans can comfortably observe them – is rather passive.

The book is a dense, but engaging, and surprisingly quotable book. Watson talks a lot about restoration, and I know that in the academic library conservation world restoration is a bit of a dirty word. I think it need not be. He discusses the spectrum of treatment from restoration which makes values an object’s utilitarian and aesthetic value, to preservation which values an object’s documentary or historical value. He sees value in the middle ground response, which he calls restorative conservation.

What follows is a bunch of quotes, with a smattering of comments. (Sorry if you were hoping for a more disciplined and critical reading.)

“Objects from the past have a dual nature. They are simultaneously historical on one hand, and they are utilitarian/aesthetic on the other.” (p.3)

“The confusion finally begs the question ‘What are we preserving, and why?’ and the various answers have everything to do with values.”(p.3)

The spectrum from [using his terms] restoration to preservation address the spectrum of user needs and object values from use value to documentary or historical value.

With use value “interventions are not preservation of a historical object, but maintenance of a current one.” (p.26)

“Historical value derives the significance on an artifact from its nearness to the historical state without the confusion of restorative reinterpretation.” (p.27)

I really appreciate the author’s recognition of objects through time.  They are not static objects but continually changing and accumulating.

“Artifacts are like recording machines that cannot be turned off. In this way, an old artifact is a palimpsest, with new information continually being written over and perpetually obscuring older information.” (p.12)

“Preservation is stabilization in the present evolved state.” (p.38)

“We can play on a restored organ that Bach once played, but when Bach played it, it wasn’t a three-hundred-year-old organ.” (p.31)

“Conservation exists to preserve cultural heritage, yet paradoxically, one of the greatest agents of change may be conservators and restorers themselves shaping artifacts according to their own values.” (p.29) Therefore, the need to study, and be conscious of our own values.

“From one side of the continuum comes the belief that our use and continual renewal of the artifact preserves aesthetic information, while the other side believes the artifacts to be an inviolable relic of the past that loses evidence when transformed in the name of restoration.” (p.38)

“A corollary of the Paradox of Preservation is that an artifact becomes more vulnerable as our appreciation of it increases.” (p.44) This was where I thought again of digital preservation and whether this concept of artifact is relevant to that world. Digital hardware becomes more vulnerable as we use it, but do files/data become more vulnerable?  A copy of an organ (or even a book) is a very different thing than the organ which was copied, but this is not the case in the digital realm.

Increased use increases the value of an item and increases the likelihood that resources with be spent to preserve the item, but our highly used copy of the 1968 Detroit city directory is not going to be preserved as its own artifact, but through acquiring more copies, and copies on various formats.

“The illusion of an ancient object’s mythical rebirth is deeply satisfying; we seem to achieve for the object what we cannot have for ourselves – immortality itself.” (p.4)

 “Restoration celebrates and nourishes what may be the most profound hope of humanity: regeneration.” (p.46)

“Restoration of an old object is akin to a sacrament in which we replay the ritual of recreation and healing.” (p.46)

“Restoration is what we do for ourselves, and preservation is what we do for our ancestors and descendants. The goal of conservation is for all parties to get their due.” (p.47)

 “The philosophical core of conservation, however, is that the heritage of cultural property transcends the individual.” (p.61)

Watson advocates for restorative conservation which pulls some from both cultures, but does this compromise end up displeasing both sides. Is there not also an argument for approaches across the full spectrum from full restoration, to the most minimally invasive conservation? (A mosaic rather than a melting pot approach.)

Any treatment of an object, whether it is seen as restoration or preservation or conservation, needs to be done with an awareness of and attention to the many diverse meanings of the object and at least a sense of how their intervention might shape future “readings” of that object.

This post isn’t really doing justice to the full breadth of even just this one chapter. As I continued reading I was starting to feel like my brain is full, and I needed more time to process what I had read before I could absorb much more. There is a lot of engaging content. It reminded me a little of reading Muñoz Viñas’ “Contemporary Theory of Conservation” which is a great thing to be reminded of.

I really like this final quote, which is just as much about creation as it is preservation.

“When chisel meets the wood, design becomes a negotiation.” (p.95)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts on my walk home from work

(It takes me an hour to walk home from work. This is, as best as I can recall, a run-down of my thoughts on my walk home Friday afternoon. It might have been advisable for me to edit and improve these notes, but this is a long weekend and I’m on vacation.)

I am a librarian. I work in the world of libraries.

A large part of what libraries do is collect and provide texts to readers.

The purpose of these texts, by and large, is for readers to derive meaning in the reading of them.

Library, by and large, do not consider themselves in the “meaning” business, but in the text/info/data business, but it is important for library users to be able to derive meaning from the texts we provide them.

Text can be read from a variety of media. For a long time the overwhelmingly predominant media was the codex – aka the book.

Now, to state the absurdly obvious, texts are increasingly encountered/read in a digital environment.

Does the meaning derived from a text read from a codex differ from the meaning derived from the same text read in a digital context? I think it must.

This raises two questions: 1) to what extent is there a difference of meaning? and2) does this difference in meaning really matter?

We can deduce that the context of text delivery matters. A text delivered on a cheap paperback is different than the same text delivered on a finely bound, letter press book is different than a text delivered on a phone screen.

A question that we must once again and always ask is, What are we to preserve? And then a related question is what do we not need to preserve, or what is not worth our resources to preserve?

If texts mean different things delivered on different media do we need to preserve all those different manifestations of the text? The short answer, and I would argue correct answer is no.

Very often the value or significance of the differences in meaning from texts delivered in different media is not worth our resources. Also, the variability and fluidity of texts delivered in a digital environment make the idea of capturing the nuances of each delivery an endless quest.

Texts delivered on different media open up or expand the possible meanings of that text. In our preservation work we should strive not reduce potential meanings, but neither can we presume to preserve the text for all potential meanings.

[Other days when I walk home I think about things like ACDC songs, or the differences between Canadian and American potato chip flavors.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

And the Golden Bone Folder Award goes to...

It is time to resurrect my Golden Bone Folder Award.

The folks at Harold B. Lee Library Productions deserve this award for producing a phenomenal preservation video which will "enter-train" [their term] all who watch.

(Creating some real Golden Bone Folder Awards sounds like a fun weekend craft project..)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This is not preservation. That is not preservation.

I occasionally follow events I’m not attending by tracking their hashtag on twitter. I’m deeply grateful for people who actively and insightfully tweet what is going on in front of them. This helps clue me in on the topics of discussion. It is interesting when several tweeters grab ahold of one particular phrase or idea.

Following the events of the Library of Congress’ Digital Preservation 2014 earlier this year one such retweeted phrase was “Storage is not preservation.”

Following the recent Society of American Archivists meeting this week one phrase which I took note of related to web archiving was “Capture is not preservation.”

Implied in these two “not-preservation” statements are that their subjects, Storage and Capture are not in and of themselves preservation. Preservation is more than just storage and capture. They are wonderfully tweetable phrases – coming easily under 140 characters and have that sense of glib truth, but defining what something isn’t, leaves me wanting. It leaves me wanting for positive assertions about preservation.

This may come as a bit of a surprise given the name of this blog, and given what I like to write about, but I want to know what preservation IS, not what it is not. This question of what is preservation was part of my motivation for the 5 Days ofPreservation event as it helped answer the question what does preservation look like, but they didn’t really get to the question of what do these acts of preservation accomplish. I think I was also trying to get at this question in my Portraits in Preservation project with my bonus question “What do you preserve and why?”

I don’t really think there is one conclusive definition to what preservation is. I expect there are many models or theories of preservation and that’s probably as it should be. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Reading Re-Collection

Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito, MIT Press, 2014.

I have realized, over time that the topic I am most interested in is preservation. This might seem an odd realization given the declarative name of this blog, and all the preservation related posts I've written. What I mean is that I am interested in the idea of preservation. My interests are less in the particulars of digital preservation or analog preservation or lighthouse preservation than in the very concept of preserving. It helps me to feed this interest when I encounter ideas of preservation that are beyond the realm of typical library talk. This is all an unnecessarily long-winded preface to me saying I stretched my mind and read this book about preserving art and stuff.

I don't typically read books about art, but mention of this volume on my twitter feed caught my eye, and a little research increased by interest. The table of contents listed three chapters with "death" in the title which is a good way to capture my attention. (After researching the book on Amazon I ordered it through my local independent bookstore.)

I found the book very engaging, accessible, insightful, and enjoyable. I really like what the authors did, or attempted to do, and appreciate their endeavors to broaden the conversation about preservation. I also found the book to be occasionally frustrating and I argued with it a lot. (The fact that I found it occasionally frustrating, but eagerly read on to the end is in fact a strong affirmation. I can easily drop a book mid-read if it annoys me.)

On its most up-front level, this book is about preserving new media, particularly digital media art. How do you preserve art that was created using computer technology that is now nearly obsolete? These new creations do pose significant technical challenges, but the technical challenges of digital preservation are not the real heart of this book. The heart of this book is really an exploration of new (or not so new) ways of conceptualizing what preservation might look like. I think the authors do an admirable job of stretching traditional understandings of both how to preserve and what we are preserving.

One of my frustrations with this book is the author's use of caricatures to argue their points, and caricatures make for weak arguments. The authors liked to contrast traditional, institution-bound, conservators, with libertarian, free-wheeling, amateurs. Using their language: "The amateur has no white gloves, [the authors HATE white gloves] lab, or a cadre of assistants" but these amazing amateurs are "acned kids on laptops in bedrooms." Even their portrayal of analog media as compared to digital media relies too heavily on glib characterizations. Some might find this makes the reading more amusing. I didn't. But this is tempered, because in other places in the book, the authors demonstrated much more nuanced understandings of roles and media.

One of my challenges/learning points with reading this book is it comes out of the art context which places a great deal of emphasis on an artifact's creator and the creator's intent.  Galleries - and archives - tend to be much more concerned about facilitating "appropriate" interpretations by providing "context" than is the library world’s tradition. I tend toward the idea that the creator/writer is part of the community of interpreters and not necessarily possessing a more privileged understanding. Having such a high view of the creator, however, will naturally shape how one approaches preservation.

There is so much stuff in this book - my copy has notes written in it all over the place - that it is hard to write a response. This book really has a lot of engaging points and ideas. It's the kind of book I would be glad to do as a chapter by chapter study in a group. [Perhaps I should learn from the archives reading group and organize such a group for this book.]

A little aside about the presence of death in this book – as it is a bit of a hobby topic of mine. As I mentioned above, the word death appearing in chapter titles caught my interest, but upon reading I quickly realized they were regarding death as a bad thing. But then they threw me a curve ball and in the chapter “Unreliable Archivists” had an engaging and nuanced discussion of death, including Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. The book is also dedicated “To everyone that’d dead.”

I think the key take away from this book is the things we want to preserve – whether new media art, or old-fashioned books – are variable, and preserving them requires solutions that are equally variable. Both their "object" as performance and their ecological models are valuable additions to the conversation.

I conclude reiterating that as much as I argued with and complained about this book, it is a really valuable read and the most engaging thing I've read in a while.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflecting on 5 Days of Preservation

Last week was a blast!

Last week many of my colleagues in libraries, archives, museums, commercial firms, and otherwise joined me in #5DaysOfPreservation. Over five days we shared over 300 pictures of what preservation looked like for us at that time wherever we were.
Emily Shaw of University of Iowa and hours or digitized film
A couple things came together to spawn the idea for this project. I had recently read “The Preservation Management Handbook” and came away with two thoughts: preservation in the 21st century is vast, and the first part of this book needed more pictures. I had also just read a book – on my phone – on visual storytelling. With those two books rolling around in my head, the idea for #5DaysOfPreservation was formed.

The idea was that I would invite colleagues (and by invite I mean post on my various social media accounts) to share pictures each workday of a week of what preservation looked like for them that day. I thought that sharing several pictures would help communicate something about our work that text doesn’t capture, plus I wanted to make the barrier to involvement as low as possible, and taking pictures and sharing them on social media is about as low a barrier as it gets.

Okay, now here’s where things were a little uncertain for me. I bear very little authority or influence in the larger preservation world.  I’ve got some blog readers and some twitter followers but I was a bit concerned about throwing a party and nobody coming.  (I was pretty sure Suzy Morgan was going to show up.) Happily, I started to see some others enthusiastically share about this event. In the end, the response was far greater than I had imagined.

So a whole bunch of people shared a whole bunch of pictures – and what did we learn?

I think we learned that there’s a lot of creativity out there, and I think the informality of sharing pics on social media allowed for a little more playfulness than other types of communication.

The scope of what we are preserving and who is doing the preserving is indeed vast.  We saw pics from UK, US, Canada (maybe more), from major universities, county libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, commercial vendors, television and radio archives.

Internet Archive's PetaBoxes
submitted by Jefferson Bailey
They types of materials preserved were also vast. There were what was to me a surprisingly large number of pictures of audio visual preservation activities.  There were many digital preservation related pics, as well as artifacts – both in libraries and museums. There were web archiving pics – with examples from both the UK parliament and the US Senate. We saw examples of extraordinary and exceptional items and activities, as well as the most common of materials and tasks.  There were even a few microfilm pics – one was mine.

There were several disaster/water related pics including a supply closet in preparation for a disaster, and drying books. There were a few pics of mysterious, and not so mysterious unpleasant soiling and staining of items.

One thing I noticed as the week was moving along is the presence of lots of screen shots and close ups of items, but not a lot of pictures with people. I was as guilty as others of not including the people who preserve in my pics. I issued a request on Thursday for people to post more people pics and they did.

I think one of the achievements of this project was the chance to see colleagues dealing with the same challenges and doing some of the same things we are doing.  It was a chance to hold up a mirror to our larger collective self. I think it was both reassuring, and energizing. And while the pictures often didn't have people in them, they were all crafted and shared by people, so I’d like to think it was a bit of a community building exercise.

I would be really curious to hear from others about what struck you as you viewed the pictures of this project. What struck you? What surprised you? Did it change your perception of preservation? The preservation departments of Duke University Library and Iowa State Library ended the week with blog posts in the 1091 Project series one their involvement.

So what’s next?  I’ll go back to writing goofy long blog posts, without enough pictures.  Perhaps we’ll do it again next year.

Monday, July 14, 2014

#5DaysOfPreservation begins today

The week-long project preservation picture sharing project begins today.

Each day this week take a picture of what preservation looks like for you that day.

Share them on social media with the hashtag #5DaysOfPreservation

Follow the project's tumblr 


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reading “The Preservation Management Handbook”

Preservation keeps getting bigger! In the last 20 years, the scope of what preservation in a cultural heritage organization has grown and diversified. From my perspective, the two most significant areas of growth are the explosion of digital content and the widely expanding context within which we understand preservation. Discussions about preservation have moved from the context of individual library’s concerns to a networked understanding involving libraries, archives and museums.

The recently published The Preservation Management Handbook: a 21st century guide for libraries, archives, and museums by Ross Harvey and Martha R. Mahard (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) provides a snapshot of what 21st century preservation looks like, and a framework for how to manage preservation in this ever widening context.

The book is divided into two sections: the first section is written by Harvey and Mahard and lays the groundwork for understanding and managing preservation in this new context; the second section is written by a variety of authors and covers the preservation issues of specific media and materials.

While it can serve as useful reading for anyone working in preservation, and the media section is a particularly handy reference tool, this book seems to be best suited as a textbook for an Introduction to Preservation course. There is a real need for such a text. Although Banks and Harris’ Preservation: Issues and Planning remains a wonderful volume, it is showing its age and doesn't reflect the changing preservation landscape.

One of the biggest challenges of preservation today is trying to develop a holistic understanding of its growing diversity. It is easy to separate print and audiovisual and digital collections into their own silos with their distinct preservation concerns. Harvey and Mahard attempt to provide such a holistic vision of preservation. They do an admirable job of “Mapping the Preservation Landscape for the 21st Century” in the first chapter. It is not just our collections that are changing, but they suggest the more fundamental change which is shaping new approaches to preservation is increasing interconnectivity.

In the second chapter the authors propose preservation principles “that apply to all materials, whether analog or digital, regardless of whether the materials are located in museums, libraries, or archives.” (p. 15) These principles are the fundamental assertion of this volume. They proved the framework through which to understand and manage preservation. Because they are the key to this book I will copy them in their entirety.

The Context and Aims of Preservation

  • Preservation, as a key component in the sustainability of cultural property, is an imperative that transcends national borders and is essential for the maintenance and perpetuation of global cultural heritage.
  • Preservation actions must take into account the needs of the user.
  • Authenticity of the objects needs to be ensured in any preservation action.
  • Preservation is the responsibility of all, from the creation of objects to the users of objects.

General Principles

  • Effort put into creating long-lived objects and materials reduces the need for preservation attention in the future.
  • Collaboration is necessary to ensure preservation.
  • Advocacy is necessary to ensure preservation.
  • Taking preservation action now is better than doing nothing.
  • Preservation requires active, managed care.
  • Understanding the structure of materials is the key to understanding what preservation actions to take, as materials contain the seeds of their own destruction (inherent vice).
  • Distinguish clearly between objects (containers) and the information they carry (content).
  • Prefer preservation actions that address large quantities of materials over actions that focus on individual objects.
Specific Principles
  • Appraisal is both necessary and desirable.
  • Keep the original.
  • Keep multiple copies of objects.
  • Do the minimum necessary to stabilize and preserve the object.
  • Preservation actions should not exceed the abilities of the personnel who apply them.
  • Preservation actions should aim at the highest quality possible.
  • Preservation actions should not harm the object.
  • Preservation actions should be documented.
  • Preservation actions should adhere to ethical considerations.
Despite the fact that I disagree with some outright, and quibble with others, I appreciate this effort to distill principles applicable to the big picture of preservation. I also commend the authors on routinely citing these principles throughout the rest of the book. They truly shape their approach and understanding.

In the rest of the first section of the volume the authors explicate these principles and discuss approaches to preservation management, and relay their understanding of the relationship between artifacts and information. While the content is worthwhile, I would really like to see chapters 3 through 6 edited and reorganized. Content often seemed to be repeated, and brief summaries of topics would be provided with notes that more fuller explanations were found elsewhere in the book.

I also would prefer to see more attention given to risk management and disaster preparedness and response. Each chapter on the different types of media includes a section on disaster response, but I feel that more attention should have been given to these topics on an institutional and networked level.

Oh, and more pictures and charts and graphs. I think some of the information could be better communicated through a more graphic approach, which would also help visually break up the vast sea of text. (The second section has lots of images.)

The second section on various media and materials is very strong. The various authors provide useful summaries of a specific media type. The summaries are brief, but informative. Each chapter follows the same structure which improves their role as a reference tool. The chapters included are: Paper Objects and Books, Photographic Materials, Sound Materials, Moving Image Materials, Digital Storage Media and Files, Textiles, and Paintings. Most chapters are divided into more specific categories. Each I found Brenda Bernier’s section on Photographs and Negatives to be particularly noteworthy and well-done.

While the volume’s subtitle “A 21st-Century Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums” states an intent to be a relevant resource across these various types of institutions, it seems this text is significantly more relevant to library and archive context, and less so for museums. I think the information is useful for those who manage museum collections, but the book as a whole is less programmatically relevant to the museum context. This is not intended as a negative assessment of the book, but simply a recognition of genuine differences. While it is helpful to understand how preservation is applicable across these three types of institutions, we also need to recognize that there are also distinctions of purpose and vision and collections, which create distinctions of preservation approach.

I am grateful to the authors for tackling the large challenge of perceiving and portraying what preservation looks like, or should look like in the 21st century.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Here's my idea. During the 5 working days of July 14-18, 2014 anyone (or any institution) with any bit of preservation responsibility take at least one picture each day of something that depicts what preservation looks like for them that day and post it online with the hashtag #5DaysOfPreservation  It could be copying files off floppy disks, repairing a book, participating in a meeting, attending to a leaky roof, inspecting film reels, showing off a new piece of equipment, or however preservation looks to you that day..

The work of Preservation is a large and diverse. I think documenting a week in the life of preservation could be a good, and fun, way to broaden all of our perspectives (and not nearly as much work as writing long blog posts.)

It would probably be most convenient to use Instagram and Twitter as the primary places for sharing images, but share wherever and as broadly as you can. After the week I work on some way to gather the images. If this actually happens than more than just I do this (we'll see) I'll try to keep an up-to-date list of all participants.

Added July 2
I'm going to attempt to use tumblr to gather the various pics people share during this project. You can find it at 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A few more than 140 characters on Preventive Conservation

The Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation is going on right now and I've been following it's twtitter activity #AICSF. I've chimed in every now and again when I feel the need to say things that are completely unecessary to say.

One such time was in response to a use of the phrase "Preventive Conservation." @DukePresDPC expressed their hating this term, and I concurred, and @fletcherdurant was curious why. As much as I like twitter, and it is my preferred social media, sometimes the 140 character limit is more a hindrance than a challenge (especially when 2 long twitter handles are inluced).

Here are a few more than 140 characters on my thoughts about Preventive Conservation. 

My reasons for displeasure with the phrase "Preventive Conservation" are two - at least.

First, it is too long and cumbersome. I am sure there must be one word that means what is meant by those two words, or two shorter words. (At least it isn't "Preventative Conservation" which I have seen used and irks me even more.) Being too long and cumbersom may seem a trivial complaint, but for a profession that is very concerned about getting the message out to the untrained public, communication and language matters, and "Preventive Conservation" is a lousy brand.

Second, and arguably more significantly, is what we understand our default stance to be. I acknowledge that I was trained in the traditional library-based preservation context where Preservation is the umbrella term which includes all activities, practices, and polices which are intended to ensure the ongoing viability of the collections. Conservation is the invasive, hands-on act of mitigating an objects undesired condition. E.g. washing impurities out of paper, repairing torn pages, rebinding volumes. In my understanding - our first call is Preservation - to reduce the likelihood or speed at which an object enters an undesired condition. This is done through climate control, good handling practices, etc. Preservation has the image of being more passive, because it doesn't involve hands-on, invasive activity, but it is not at all passive. 

To me, preservation, is, or should be, our default stance. As one who's interest is in ongoing viability of library collections, I feel the best approach is preserve, preserve, preserve, and if need be, conserve. This may explain why I feel less than completely engaged by the AIC world where hands-on, invasive acitivity is the default action. It is not surprising that the American Insititute of Conservation would define a set of actions as a variant of Conservation. They are not the Amican Institute of Preservation.

Preventative + Conservation = Preservation

Finally, I want to add that these few words are just some quick thoughts that come out of a brief twitter conversation happening with people who are at an event and members of an organization that I am not. I apologize for misrepresenting anyone's or any organizations thoughts and opinions.   

Monday, May 12, 2014

A new way to engage books

As a young person I was an avid radio listener, and now as a not-so-young person I listen to a lot of podcasts. Today I listened to a recent episode of Unfictional, a program of storytelling and documentaries from KCRW. The episode "A Need to Build" includes what I found to be an intriguing story of one person's move into bookbinding. As one who also loves and has studied texts, enjoys bookbinding, and has had his own encounters with head trauma, I found this story personally satisfying.

The bookbinder story begins around 17:50, but the first story about building an enormous treehouse is worth the listen. (I'm not sure if embedding the audio is working, so if not, just go to the episode page and listen there.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

No Personal Digital Archive is an Island

PDA, or Personal Digital Archiving, is a hot topic. Or rather, with those for whom PDA is a hot topic, PDA is a hot topic. And as one who spends a good bit of his time scanning select portions of the internet for interesting distractions, I've found myself paying some attention to the PDA topic. I even spent the money to buy an actual paper book on the topic.

An interesting thing about communications about the PDA topic is they seldom seem to be about the Personal Digital Archive of the person who is speaking or writing. They are about the idea of PDA, they are about the value of PDA, they are about raising awareness and understanding of PDA, they are about techniques of PDA, but there are few examples of persons talking about their own personal digital archive. I think that fact may be significant.

I've toyed with the thought of getting more involved in spreading the gospel of PDA, but, when I'm honest with myself I must acknowledge that as my own personal paper archiving practices are lousy and my personal digital archiving practices are no better. (But then I have done presentations where I told people that storing things in a damp basement isn't a good idea, and guess where my stuff is stored?)

While not wanting to be a hypocrite about the value of PDA is one reason I've not become an evangelist for the topic, I don't think it is the main reason. (Okay, the main reason is probably laziness, but apart from laziness, and not wanting to be a hypocrite, I have yet another reason.) 

Another part of my unease with PDA is the P part. The Personal part. I'm not sure the "person" is the best context within which to frame personal digital archiving, and I'm not sure it's the most effective approach to instill personal digital archiving practices.

We are not islands of individuality, or at least we are not simply islands of individuality, but we are – perhaps more importantly – connected, networked, social creatures that are intimately and inextricably linked with others. Most people have Facebook accounts and not individual web pages because social network sites reflect our own social identity.

Recognizing the networked nature of our lives, and the networked nature of the technology we use to share what is valuable to us, it seems to me it would be better for our preservation energies to be focused on the networked before the personal. Preserve the things we share. Another term for the networked nature of lives is community. 

I am suggesting that Community Digital Archiving (CDA) is a better place to direct our energies.

I don't meant to denigrate the importance of personal digital archiving, and I don't mean to create the binary of either CDA or PDA, but I think that starting from foundation of the community as the central focus for community digital archiving, and then building on that foundation personal digital archiving. This feels like a more organic and more successful approach. Community is a more sustainable ecosystem.

What practical impact would such a community focus have? I think it would encourage organizations like the Library of Congress redirect their energy from developing and implementing PDA resources toward developing and implementing CDA resources. Public libraries have been identified as places that should be hubs of PDA info and training (not that they currently are, but that they should be) and I guess I'm suggesting that it would be more overall effective if public libraries were first given the resources to become hubs of CDA. 

To quote some people who never existed "No personal digital archive is an island." and "It takes a village to create a personal digital archive." 


As with much I write on this blog there is a spirit of play behind this post – of let’s try on this CDA idea and play with it for a while and see how it feels. One of the things I feel that the informality of a personal blog offers me is the chance to present thoughts and ideas that are not thought through to their complete and declarative and publishable conclusion. Sometimes I post something that very quickly feels like a dud of an idea, and sometimes what I post spurs myself, or others, to explore (and play) some more. So c’mon in. Play a while. Feel free to tear down my CDA sand castle and build something better in its place. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Keep your hands off my books: Preservation and Access: Digital and Analog

I attended the Converge and Ingest colloquium this weekend put on by the Wayne State Unviersity NDSA student chapter. (The event was quite enjoyable and warranted more attention than it got.)

My attention was particularly grabbed by a presentation by Wayne State digital publishing librarian, Cole Hudson. (He was supposed to have presented with his colleague Graham Hukill who unfortunately could not attend due to a family emergency.)

Part of Cole's presentation looked at the relationship between preservation and access. The glib gist of what he said was that with digital materials we need to rethink the relationship between preservation and access. He then when on to tell of their involved work constructing an access system for WSU's digital collections. Their work was entirely access focused. Near the end of their work they thought they should probably think about preservation too. They looked at the NDSA Levels of Preservation (which may just be replacing OAIS as the obligatory digital preservation presentation reference) and realized that much of their access focused work achieved many of these preservation tasks.

In the Q&A I did the annoying thing of making a comment. I began my comment hoping that a question would form but by the time I got to the end of my talking there was no question. My comment, and the purpose for why I am writing this, was a thought that I've been toying with for a while is that

With digital material, access improves the likelihood of preservation,
with analog material, access decreases the likelihood of preservation.

Instead of "likelihood of preservation" I might use "length of life."

My thinking is that accessing a digital object increases its likelihood of preservation, or a long life, because often access can involve creating a copy - like when I save an article on my computer thus duplicating and distributing the object. Also, a digital object that is regularly used is likely to undergo processes to ensure its future use. For e.g. you will likely migrate a text document that you regularly consult from an old file format to a new one, whereas old files that you seldom use will not likely be migrated.

With analog materials, all use causes damage, or at least increases the likelihood of damage. The obvious example to me is my work library's city directory collection. Man of these books are much newer and better made than much of the rest of our collection, but because of extremely high use, these directories are in very poor shape.

I know my little preservation and access forumla for digital and analog materials isn't a universal truth, but it seems pretty true. I'd be curious to hear if there are people who think that it isn't very true. I'm certainly open to that argument.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Michigan Scene

(I had written most of this post when I noticed a post pop up today on The Signal by Kim Schroeder also about some of the organizing in Michigan. This wasn’t coordinated but I think just reinforces that Michigan is THE happenin’ place.)writtne ne

It’s a great time for the preservation-minded to be in Michigan (well, at least in the lower peninsula of Michigan – sorry Yoopers.) Opportunities to learn from others, share your own knowledge and questions, and just get to know other preservation practitioners are popping up all over the place. There has been a recent move towards smallish gatherings of preservation practitioners.

A couple weeks ago the Michigan Collection Network (a very loose network of library and archives folks interested in preservation) hosted their 2nd Conservation and Collections CareCamp where nearly 20 conservators and others with collection care responsibilities and interests gathered at Western Michigan University to share different projects, or techniques, or challenges they had worked on.

Last week was the 2nd gathering of theMid-Michigan Digital Practitioners at Grand Valley State University. This gathering is headed by Ed Busch of Michigan State University Archives and brings together digital collections/preservation practitioners into a fairly informal setting to share tips, tools, projects, questions.  About 30 were in attendance.

This group was inspired/influenced by the Regional DigitalPreservation Practitioners where the Region is southeast Michigan (Detroit/Ann Arbor). They meet about quarterly.

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Student Chapter at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science and their upcoming 2nd Converge and Ingest  digital preservation colloquium. These events encourage presentations and posters by both working professionals and students. The program for April’s gathering looks quite engaging.

While I’ve not participated in the RDPP gatherings I can boldly state that these gatherings have been a huge success. I think there are a few reasons for their success. 1) They are cheap. Cost to participate is the cost of travel and time. For the MidMichDP and Conservation Camps the host institutions have covered lunches. No major travel expenses or conference fees. 2) They are practitioner based. These gatherings are really about “This is what I did and this is how I did it.” The events are filled with concrete examples of ongoing activities. These gatherings really diminish the whole expert/audience separation. 3) They are human-scaled. These gatherings are reasonably local and reasonably small so participants don’t just witness examples of preservation activities but participants get to know the people and the projects happening at the institutions just a few miles from yours. They are building very real human networks which benefit from being physically together in one place.

So, folks who are unlucky enough to not live in Michigan – let this be a call and a challenge to you to build your own local networks of preservation practitioners. In Michigan it is proving to be a great opportunity for professional growth, and a good bit of fun.