Avoiding Obliteration

March 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future,” Jason Epstein deployed a nice turn of phrase in discussing the promise and problem of digital libraries.

That the contents of the world’s libraries will eventually be accessed practically anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age.

There’s a little hyperbole at the end there, but when I first encountered the piece, I thought I should rein in my preservation pedantry and just read on. However, I’ve seen his sentiment quoted several places in the last week, so perhaps it bears a little commentary.

The facts are that, as usual, librarians have already taken steps to avert cultural end-times. In this case, everything that the Google Books partner libraries digitize is stored by the HathiTrust so that we have an organizational and technological center for our preservation and service efforts. Likewise, efforts such as the LOCKSS project and Portico have good track records of caring for electronic resources after the original providers cease to be.

Mr. Epstein can also take heart that, as of this posting, there is an overwhelming amount of printed material in the world and libraries remain active in collecting and preserving it. At UCLA Library we’ve spent the last century or so accumulating over 9 million examples, and we’ve spent the last few months digging deeply into the issue of trustworthy print preservation as part of the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST) project, “an initiative to organize a distributed print repository service among research libraries in the western region of the United States.”

Don’t read what I’m not writing — we’re still in the early stages of learning about the mix of preservation methods that are needed to keep digital collections available and useful. There are going to be some frustrating days as we figure this out, but you can rest assured that civilization will still be here after you click this link.

Time marches on

March 12th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

And suddenly it’s spring.

Next week, I’ll be in Washington D.C. for the National Archives Preservation Conference, and I’m looking forward to a great group of speakers and hoping for some early cherry blossoms. The NARA conferences are always worthwhile, and I commend the proceedings of their past conferences to your attention. This will be the first conference since David Ferriero took the reigns as the Archivist of the United States and I think it’s fitting that he has an agenda that looks like a very good immersion into the best current thinking on making preservation work in political, financial and organizational terms.

The D.C. area is a national hotbed of preservation activity, with enough activity in the federally supported museums, libraries and archives that I’m hesitant to list them for fear of missing someone. Outside of the institutional base in D.C., however, I think that the Washington Conservation Guild is notable. They have a great speaker’s series the likes of which I’d like to see us get started here in Los Angeles. We’ve certainly got the audience and a great wealth of conservation expertise, so if only we can get them through traffic on the 10 and 405 a couple times a year, we’ll be all set.

In March, you can look forward to information about Portico, a digital preservation service that UCLA Library supports; another episode on the process of managing and optimizing conservation environments; and the Great Paste Update, concerning paste-making tools and technology, the use of hypodermic syringes to keep paste in good condition and make it easy to apply, and a short history of sticking things together, in order that you might understand why conservators are so interested in paste to begin with.