Thursday, August 6, 2015

This is the end

Pic taken by Eileen Zimmerman
I am officially concluding my active participation in Library Preservation 2.  I was pretty sure this was going to be the case when I announced its hiatus, but wanted to give myself a few months to think it over.

Working on this blog has been a great treat for me, but it, along with my related projects – 5 Days of Preservation tumblr, and the Preservation Imperative podcast (which I am also stopping) – were all done on my free time and whatever work time I “borrowed”. I am no longer driven to think about preservation day and night.

I will keep this site online for a while because people do keep visiting it every day. (I don’t want to take it down only to have some Russian hucksters “resurrect” it a year later like happened to my first blog.)

I really enjoyed taking the time to reflect and ponder ideas and issues and writing my quirky - and some generously said "thoughtful" - responses to them. I am continuing to do this, just not around preservation topics.

Thanks for everything.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Library Preservation 2 is on hiatus for an indefinite duration. Go out and enjoy the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reading "Preserving Our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital Age"

Preserving Our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital Age, selections and commentary by Michele Valerie Cloonan. Chicago: Neal-Schuman, 2015.

[Addendum: You can listen to my interview with Michele Cloonan on my Preservation Imperative podcast.]

This is a large book. It is many other things as well, including being a good book, but first impressions of the books size have stuck with me throughout its reading. It is 693 pages of 8.5 x 11 in. doubled-columned pages filled with not particularly large type. Granted, this volume’s heft may not seem to be the most essential quality of this book, but when you’ve taken on the task of reading the entire volume, it is a very real and present quality.

I have been anticipating this book for quite some time for two reasons: Cloonan's writings cause me to look at aspects of preservation in new ways – which is nearly the best thing I can say of any writing; I’ve also been anticipating this book because it took quite some time to finally come into existence. For two years I watched its publication date be pushed back again and again.

The book is an anthology, a selection of preservation writings over time – a very long time – with commentary by Cloonan. All of the pieces had been previously published, except for a few written specifically for this volume.

My first graduate degree is in biblical studies, and I noticed my mind occasionally going back to those times as I made my way through this volume. Here are some of the connections: both books tell the mythic/philosophical/historical story of how we came to be where we are today; both books tell that story with different and sometimes contradictory voices and perspectives; with both books the reader needs to decide what parts to read within the piece’s historical context, and what to read as “confessional” or as speaking directly to the reader’s context; and with each book, readers began the new year with the noble conviction that they were going to read the entire thing, and finding motivation to continue occasionally flagging along the way.

Here’s a listing of the chapter headings and each chapter contains several articles:
  • Early Perspectives on Preservation
  • Perspectives on Cultural Heritage 
  • Preservation in Context: Libraries, Archives, Museums, and the Built Environment
  • Collections: Development and Management
  • Risks to Cultural Heritage: Time, Nature, and People
  • Conservation
  • Frameworks for Digital Preservation
  • Preservation Policy
  • Ethics and Values
  • Multicultural Perspectives
  • Sustainability

The chapter titles reveal that this book is not only large in physical size, it is large in perspective. This large, interdisciplinary perspective on preservation is both the book’s biggest gift to the reader, as well as its biggest hurdle. By gathering all these voices across time and tradition into one volume Cloonan offers the reader a global perspective of cultural heritage preservation. Reading this volume will introduce the reader to new voices and new disciplines and is bound to expand one’s perception of cultural heritage preservation. This book weaves a wide web of interconnected preservation ideas and interests. The hurdle of this planetary perspective, at least for this reader, is trying to hold onto all these many voices and ideas at the same time to uncover connections, relationships, and patterns.

As I was working through it my mind did what it needs to do and developed a model or pattern with which understand or organize these various articles. I settled on four realms of preservation being Conceptual, Strategic, Administrative, and Technical. (I wrote more on this on some earlier blog posts. Post 1. Part 2.) These four categories gave me a framework to receive these different articles independent of the discipline they represented. Each article generally falls into one of these four categories, although many straddle multiple categories.

The majority of the articles reflect a library/archives context, with some articles from museum, historical preservation, and general cultural heritage contexts also included. I would describe the book as more multi-disciplinary than interdisciplinary. Cloonan places different preservation disciplines next to each other, but she doesn’t exactly get them to talk to each other. It is up to the reader to establish connections. In the Epilogue, Cloonan encourages the development of the interdisciplinary study of preservation as a distinct academic field.

As I was reading this volume I occasionally paused over the question: Who is going to want to read this book? And how will they read it? Some might use this book as a reference tool reading selected articles of particular relevance, but that would miss the value of the book as a whole, which is greater than its individual parts. Referring back to my biblical reference, this book, like the Bible, is not a great “how-to” book. It does not specifically tell the reader how to manage a preservation program or repair a book. What this book does is provide a historical and philosophical foundation from which decisions about preservation programs and book repair can be more wisely made.

I found a few chapters to be particularly valuable inclusions in this volume: “Perspectives on Cultural Heritage Preservation,” which includes most of the book’s conceptual/philosophical writings; “Preservation Policy,” which surprised me as being about government policy for cultural heritage preservation; “Multicultural Perspectives,” although I note that these articles focus on objects, and not libraries or information; and finally I found “Sustainability, A Review” and particularly helpful overview of this growing area of interest.

The chapter “Frameworks for Digital Preservation” is the book’s weakest section, largely because it has too much similar content. The majority of the articles were from the 1990s. I acknowledge that in an anthology that covers texts from over 2000 years selecting texts to represent the rapidly changing and growing discipline of digital preservation is a challenge.

Publishing this book is itself an act of preservation as republishing and distribution have long been seen as one tool for preservation. Also, by selecting these articles and inviting the reader to read and pay attention to them, Cloonan is shaping the reader’s memory and what they carry with them into the future. The content of this book is being preserved because it will be distributed to readers and libraries around the world, but also because the contents are now part of my thought process and will likely shape and be cited in my own future work.

This book does not set a vision for how to move preservation forward, but that is not what this book sets out to do. While this book doesn’t extend the reader’s vision on the future, it certainly invites the reader to look both deeper within and further beyond their familiarity. It builds a foundation that is both deeper and wider upon which to create new ways of understanding and accomplishing preservation.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunshine and Preservation

It is Sunshine Week, “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sun shining through a pipe which now carries
tar sand oil across Michigan.
An open and transparent government is – or should be – one of the highest principles of American life, or really of any civic life. The government acts on behalf of the people, regulating the people, and using the people’s money to act, so the people have a right to know how the government does its work. The means of acquiring that knowledge championed during Sunshine Week is the FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request.

I work for the government – the State of Michigan – so my role and experience with FOIA and government transparency is different from journalists. I tend to be on the receiving rather than requesting end of FOIA requests. My involvement on the receiving end has been simply as a member of the department – providing copies of emails sent to Hillary Clinton’s non-governmental email address (zero), and identifying any training videos I created so a resident could determine if the video was wasteful (I believe I create one video, and no word if it was deemed wasteful.)

I’ve also been part of internal discussions considering a digitization program which would help make our own agency’s response to the more common FOIA requests a quicker and easier process. In my other digitization responsibilities we are increasingly responding to government agencies wanting us to digitize and provide online access to their own most requested materials. (These materials end up on our Governing Michigan collection.)

But this is a blog about preservation and not open government. Government agencies can only fulfill FOIA requests if they have and can access the information being requested. Preserving these records in an accessible format is a vital responsibility of government – and something that personally motivates me to do what I do. One thing that helps hold government accountable for its past decisions and actions is well-maintained records of those past decisions and actions. The challenges of capturing, preserving, and providing access to that information have only increased as governments have moved to digital media.

In thinking about preserving government information for open access Sunshine is a curious metaphor. If you’ve ever watched a single episode of Antiques Roadshow you’ve heard the advice to keep things out of the sunlight. Sunlight damages materials and speeds up the aging process. But sunlight (both literal and figurative) also reveals and exposes and allows materials to be read. We preserve (keep out of sunlight) to provide access (let the light shine in.)

If the sun shines in and exposes unorganized shelves of crumbling paper and unreadable files, then we – our government, and those of us who preserve government records – have failed.

A few resources for more information about open government:
Sunlight Foundation
Sunshine Week
Free Government Info
Michigan Coalition for Open Government

(I feel I should probably reiterate that everything on the Library Preservation 2 blog is my own opinion and is in no way endorsed by my employer.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Citizen Four and Preservation

Last night I watched Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Others play a role in the story but those are the two main "characters". I'm going to presume that anyone reading this has a pretty good idea what the story is about.

I found it to be a discouraging and disheartening story - or rather a story filled with discouraging and disheartening information. Shortly after watching it, however, I began to ask myself "What preservation lessons might be learned from all this?" (I'm a little embarrassed that I ask this question in so many different contexts. I feel like a man with a single thought who needs to bring everything back to preservation. But if that's who I am I guess I should run with it.)

Two things that came to mind after this film were our decisions of what to preserve, and where to preserve it.

It seems to me that within our increasingly digital context the default approach to records and information is to keep it, even if only through neglect. Adding more file cabinets to take on more files can cause us to reconsider how much we are keeping, whereas decisions to buy a bigger hard drive, or using cloud-based storage are easily made. The apparent ease of keeping data reduces our felt need to decide what to keep, and more importantly, to decide what to dispose of.

But when do we consider if the convenience and ease of retaining this data is less significant than the potential threat of its misuse or use against your interests?

Libraries took the lead on this in response to the Patriot Act by assuring that their systems did not retain records of patron transaction histories. There could be value in retaining those records, like proving more personalized experience for patrons, but the principle of patron privacy is deemed to be more valuable.

It seems an important question to ask if the value of preserving information is greater than the potential harm or violation that could be done with that information? Is the convenience of preserving your various passwords on a post-it attached to your monitor of greater value than the risk of someone finding and using those passwords for malicious purposes? Do we keep things because it is easy and convenient, or do we keep them because we need to?

Related to choosing what to preserve - and what not to preserve - is the choice of where to preserve it and related security questions. After viewing this film, it is hard for me to think anything other than if you don't want the NSA (and who knows who else) to be able to access your files, don't store them with a cloud-based provider. It's really hard to know where in a networked environment your data is not vulnerable to intrusion.

A significant part of preservation is providing security from threats, and while there is no way to avoid all threats it is important to know and understand your security vulnerabilities. It would be a sad conclusion if the only way to mitigate the risk of security vulnerability was through self-censorship. There is not preserving what you don’t need, but there can also be not preserving what you do need, because the risk of unwanted discovery is too great.

It was a striking closing scene in the movie to see Snowden and Greenwald in a room communicating with a few spoken words, but mostly hand-written notes - which were then shredded. Information was shared between then in a way that had the least vulnerability to interception.

I fully acknowledge, I do not write these things as a very informed voice. And my desire is not to be alarmist or paranoid. My simple goals are to be more aware of the ramifications of my preservation decisions; and to be more aware of what I value.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

This is not preservation, That is not preservation

I have a growing interest in trying to understand what people - and I include myself in that group - mean when they use the word preservation. Curiously, I seem to encounter many more expressions of what people feel "is not preservation" which I suppose reveals something about their understanding of what is preservation.

So, here is a list created by a basic internet search of  quoted words and phrases that people have declared "is not preservation,"

  • Digitization
  • Digital imaging
  • Scanning
  • Transferring to a digital format
  • Backup
  • Publication
  • Access
  • Storage
  • Slowing the chemical reactions
  • Intention
  • Microfilming
  • Emulation
  • Capture
  • Organization
  • To freeze the past or what is present and thus to make it out of life
  • Saving facades only
  • Converting built environments into “historic sites”
  • Building a replica

Monday, February 16, 2015

4 Realms of Preservation - Part 2 (now with pics)

I've been spending a little more time pondering my 4 Realms of Preservation idea I shared last week. (I really need to come up with a better word than realm, but one hasn't come to me yet. I've also thought of this as a 4 part framework for understanding preservation, but I'm not overly satisfied with that either.)

If you don't want to go read my brief post introducing this idea I wrote about preservation being comprised of 4 realms: Conceptual, Strategic, Administrative, and Technical. The previous post provided brief definitions of what I meant by each category.

This morning I've been toying with different ways to communicate/understand this, and I ended up drawing some illustrations to help me think things through. I thought I'd share my little sketches and the thinking behind them. It will be painfully obvious that illustration/drawing is not a personal strength. In the illustrations I use their capital letter to abbreviate the 4 realms.

My first go-round was the Venn diagram approach.with the various areas overlapping and the implied idea that the center where they all overlap is the sweet spot. I think this helps communicate the ideas a little but I'm not particularly satisfied by it. (I also noted that the orange and red were too similar so in later drawings I replaced orange with purple.)

The concentric circle model is another common construction. I debated between putting Technical and Conceptual in the middle but opted for C because I think Conceptual should be at the core of our work, also because I think Technical is the area of preservation the public is mostly likely to first encounter. What I don't particularly like about this is the forced sequential structure, and I'm not sure if the increasing sizes of rings communicates a change in value.
I then tried out this illustration where all the circles are the same size and the lines indicate interconnectedness. I think this once again communicates some things of value, but it lacks direction or flow. You can just randomly bounce around these various realms like a pinball.
My fourth illustration is possibly the least pretty, but I think it best expresses how I conceive of these 4 realms. I think their is a dominant logical flow from Conceptual to Strategic to Administrative to Technical, but that is not the extent of the relationships. Realms can be skipped - going from Conceptual to Technical - but also, and more importantly, their is flow in the opposite direction. Administrative experience can shape future Strategic work.

Richenda Brim commented on the previous post of her own thinking of preservation in terms of Concept and Action. That Action idea has piqued my interest. I think the case could be made that C and S fit into Concept and A and T fit into Action.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Four Realms of Preservation

I’m nearing the end of Michele Cloonan’s “Preserving our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital Age” and while I will write a fuller review/response in a later post, I feel the book is spurring some thought that I want to get on screen now. (I wanted to write “that I want to get down on paper” but there is no paper involved and sometimes you need to let a metaphor die.)

As I’m reading these many and various articles I suppose it is just the way of my brain to try and categorize them and put them into some kind of structure – pattern recognition. And the structure that is emerging is four realms of preservation thinking. I’m really not satisfied with “realms” but I haven’t found a better word yet. My thinking began in terms of genres of preservation literature, and there were three, but it is really less about genre as about subject matter and approach and three grew to four.

The four realms of preservation literature I am recognizing are: Conceptual; Strategic; Administrative; and Technical. These categories seem to me to reflect the four approaches to thinking about preservation.

Here’s a little about what I mean by each category.

Conceptual – A generally philosophical approach asking questions like why do we preserve? What does it mean to preserve? These are generally the questions of the academy which may feel too detached from the realities of physically preserving things.

Strategic – This was the category I added when I moved from 3 to 4 categories. Strategic is big picture thinking, but towards the aim of realizing something. It’s about setting a plan to move forward. It includes things like cultural heritage policy. I would see policy (as in governmental policy) as a subcategory of Strategic.

Administrative – This is the category of institutional or consortial work. It is here that issues of economics play a significant role. It is here where we see how the priorities of preservation relate and compete with other priorities.

Technical – This is perhaps the most easily identifiable categories. It is about the “nuts and bolts” of how preservation actions actually happen. It will tend to be the most scientific oriented of the categories.

My biggest challenge is conceptualizing how these 4 categories relate. One idea is a linear relationship where one leads to the next. Start with Conceptual, move to Strategic, then Administrative and finally Technical. That, however, feels like an incomplete model lacking in nuance. The next model I thought was the concentric circle approach with Conceptual as the outer ring moving down to Technical at the center. I like that a little better.

A question I have is Do all four need to be present? Can you move from Conceptual to Technical and ignore the other two? Honestly, that seems to describe my own experience; not so much out of intention but just because I like to ponder the conceptual stuff, and my work is largely in the technical realm. (I’d be quite happy spending more time especially working in strategy, but that’s not what is right now.)

I do think all four categories need to be well represented for a healthy preservation ecosystem. I also think current library preservation literature is much heavier on the latter two than the former, which is unfortunate.

Anyway, that’s my pre-reflection arising from reading the Cloonan book. I’ll try to get through the last 150 pages and get a review up soon. It’s just so many words.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Free Kindle editions of Pursuing Preservation

This week only (Jan. 26-30) you can download a copy of the Kindle version of Pursuing Preservation.

A while back I experimented with self-publication. I wanted to go through the process just to see what was involved, and so I created "Pursuing Preservation" And, because I used Amazon's CreateSpace I was also able to create a Kindle edition. The book is mostly selections from this blog. There is no original content.

I was playing with my Kindle account this weekend, and noticed I could create promotional deals including offering it for free for up to five days. So, here it is. Enjoy. (And if you ever meet me in person I will gladly autograph your Kindle for you.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Is it Time to Dispose of the Library of Alexandria?

First and foremost – I am in no way advocating any burning or destruction of any library anywhere. And nothing I say here pertains to the current institution of the same name.

The target of my intent is the mythical Library of Alexandria that lives in our heads and upon which we throw so much meaning and substance.

My attention to the topic of the mythical Library of Alexandria comes as a result of reading the recent New Yorker article “The Cobweb” on internet archiving and the Internet Archive in particular. In it, Brewster Kahle talks about building the Internet Archive in terms of building the “Library of Alexandria Two.”

The Library of Alexandria? Isn’t that the library that was burned down or looted and nothing of it remains? That seems like an odd, and by “odd” I mean bad model for an archive that wants to preserve things.

I am the furthest thing from an expert on the historical Library of Alexandria, but from my scant knowledge my understanding is that the library collection was built on greed and theft (or you could call it aggressive intellectual curiosity) and it’s centralized collection was destroyed possibly through a combination of administrative looting and burning by opposing armies.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that the Library of Alexandria is at best a negative example, an example of what not to do. Okay, the intellectual curiosity and desire to collect has some noble intentions, but as a model for preservation or even just as a throw-away comment about the good old days, the mythical Library of Alexandria needs to be burned to the ground.

I should have mentioned and linked to a much more worthwhile read (more worthwhile than this post) responding to the New Yorker article on the Inkdroid blog.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Forces for Preservation

I’ve been thinking about the various images of what preservation looks like. The traditional library image of preservation is the intact volume kept in a controlled environment, protected from damage and theft. Over the years the library world has developed practices and policies to strengthen and reinforce this model of preservation.

This is certainly a reasonable model for what preservation looks like. It is a model built on the individual artifact / art conservation approach to materials.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to ask myself “What are some characteristics of ‘things’ that have endured a long time – fulfilling the goal of preservation – and why have they endured?” I’m asking this because it seems to me that many of the ‘things’ that have endured a long time have not done so because they were well protected in a library.

It seems to me there are other forces that can lead to preservation, but to a preservation that looks very different than the traditional library preservation model. Three forces are: ubiquity, cultural identity, ritualized performance.

Ubiquity – Abundance leads to endurance. Right out of the gate I’m altering the ‘things’ being preserved compared to my initial library model. Ubiquity is a nonsense idea when attempting to preserve individual artifacts, as each artifact is unique. I’m moving from an item definition of ‘thing’ to manifestation or work understanding. (Please see Jake Nadal’s wonderful “FRBRas a Preservation Administration Framework”)

In general, the more there are of some thing, the more likely that thing will endure. The traditional library model approach to quantity is “What’s the fewest number of copies we need to keep to ensure endurance?” Ubiquity asks: how can we get more copies out there?

Cultural identity – Items that speak to a culture’s identity have a greater chance of enduring. The oldest things in a public library’s collection are books of local history and newspapers. These are kept because they help define the people who keep them. Books and documents help record and shape how a community understands its place in the world are to be honored and preserved. This is also why these materials often fall victim to conquering forces which want to dismantle their victim’s identity.

Ritualized performance – One of the surest ways to ensure the preservation of a ‘thing’ is to perform it. Perform may strike some as an unusual verb to use in the context of preservation. With perform I include such things as acting out a play, playing a piece of music, reading stories aloud, reciting texts during worship, displaying the item in an honorific setting, and many other means of performance. Ritualized performance often speaks to and encourages cultural identity. But performance also allows (people) to engage with the thing in more physical ways. By performing the ‘thing’ we begin to embody it. It is no longer just an object we perceive with our minds, but something we live through our bodies. And once our bodies learn new patterns of behavior, like learning to ride a bike, it becomes hard to forget.

I’ll an attempt an example of these three forces fostering preservation. In my own Mennonite religious/cultural tradition there are a significant trio of cookbooks: More-With-Less, Extending the Table, Simply in Season, which are referred to by the publisher as the “World Community Cookbook” series.

Ubiquity – All three of these cookbooks have been very popular sellers. According to the Wikipedia entry More-With-Less has sold nearly 1 million copies. Copies of this book can be found in homes around the world. It is for many the assumed cookbook, the one you expect others will have and be familiar with. (My own household has two copies as we each brought our own copy into the marriage.)

Cultural identity – A guiding principle of these three cookbooks is food as an expression of ethics and values. More-With-Less connects food and justice and encourages simpler living through reduced reliance on processed foods, meats and dairy. Extending the Table encourages a global identity with international recipes, and Simply in Season encourages cooking with locally grown, seasonal ingredients. These books shape and reinforce the cultural identity of the community out of which they come. They provide ways concrete ways to live out one’s culture and faith.

Ritualized performance – A cookbook without food stains is soon forgotten. The endurance of these books is ensured when more people use them to cook. In the act of food preparation these recipes and books become embodied in the acts of preparation and eating. The recipes are not just words on a page, but a series of physical activities, a collection of odors and tastes, and an invitation to sharing a meal time with others. As these recipes are made over and over again they become part of the communal memory. It would be an interesting challenge to see how much of these cookbooks could be recreated from the communal memory. It is akin to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 457 where books are preserved through individuals’ memory and performance of their book.

Finally, I want to encourage those concerned with preservation to be open to considering and pursuing broader understandings of what preservation looks like and how best to preserve.