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.