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CPA Newsletter #43, Mar 1992

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access


March 1992

Number 43

Speakers Describe Technology, College Libraries at Capitol Hill Briefing on Preservation

Over 40 persons, including members and staff of the House of Representatives and Senate, attended the January 31 breakfast briefing on preservation issues sponsored by the National Humanities Alliance, Association of Research Libraries, and American Library Association (see February 1992 newsletter). Short talks on various facets of the nationwide preservation agenda were presented. Among them were the following two presentations. Other speakers were Commission President Patricia Battin, Board members James Govan and Sidney Verba, and Robert Oakley, author of the Commission publication, Copyright and Preservation: A Serious Problem in reed of a Thoughtful Solution.

Digital Technologies, Preservation and Access

M. Stuart Lynn, Vice President for Information Technologies, Cornell University: Member, Commission on Preservation and Access Technology Assessment Advisory Committee

The world of digital technologies–where all information is electronically reduced to a collection of 1’s and 0 s–continues its relentless march. Costs continue to halve every two or three years and performance or capacity doubles over the same time frame. And there is no end in sight.

These digital technologies have exciting potential for the research libraries of our nation, revolutionizing how we capture, store, and provide access to information and recorded knowledge. My remarks today will be directed to their application to the preservation of books imperilled through embrittlement, and to how such application can improve access to the nation’s intellectual heritage.

By contrast, analog technologies such as paper, video, sound, and even microfilm, do not decline rapidly in cost. But it is not only declining costs that are providing th impetus for the shift to digital. There are other factors, such as relative reliability of reproduction and transmission. Photocopies, for example, lose in quality at each successive stage of reproduction, as do microfilms with each generational copy. For these and other reasons, it is only a matter of time before the cost/performance curves cross and digital technologies come to dominate in any given area.

What, then, are some of the obstacles to realizing the inevitable potential of digital technologies, and what do these obstacles mean for preservation and access? I would like to briefly review three major hurdles to be overcome: first, the hurdle of converting between the analog world and the digital world and vice-versa, that is, scanning paper books on the one hand, and providing access to those scanned images on the other; second, the hurdle of ensuring that these scanned digital images can be stored in a form that will be accessible five hundred years from now to meet preservation requirements; and third, implementing the storage and distribution systems needed to provide access at a distance across the nation’s networks. Let me summarize the issues.

At the interface of actual use, analog technologies, are better attuned to the needs of human consumption. As human beings rather than computers, we do not think in 1’s and 0’s but prefer the warm and fuzzy world of paper, sound and video that we can touch, see, read, and hear. One of the challenges is indeed how we convert back and forth between the use of digital technologies for storage and transmission, and the use of analog technologies for human presentation and use.

We can, for example, scan brittle books to convert them to digital images in a number of ways. One way is to scan the books directly using high-resolution production scanning equipment. A number of projects across the nation are exploring this approach. At Cornell University for the past year or so in a joint pilot project with the Xerox Corporation and the Commission on Preservation and Access, we have scanned almost 1,000 books in a production setting at moderately high resolution reducing them to digital form.

The production costs are dominated by the labor costs of handling fragile pages and are therefore quite comparable to the costs of microfilming. We have produced high-quality paper facsimiles. printed from these digital images on acid-free paper that should last several hundred years. We are implementing network access to the scanned images from computer workstations across our campus and across the nation.

We can even produce microfilm–for archival purposes–from the scanned digital images, although with today s technologies the microfilm quality on the whole might not be as good as that obtained from directly microfilming ng the books using conventional techniques.

All of this reflects the extraordinary versatility of digital technologies.

Another way to produce digital images is to microfilm the books first using conventional photographic techniques and later scan the microfilm itself into a digital image whenever the film-scanning technology is adequate. Yale University plans to undertake a project testing this approach. The advantage is that to preserve the intellectual content of the book. we can exploit the inherently higher resolution and superior archival quality of film, while providing for improved access across digital networks now or at any time in the future. Today, we can easily scan microfilm in production settings at low to moderate resolution at only a small increment to the original cost of producing the original microfilm. At some point in the future, for the same small incremental cost. we will be able to scan the microfilm at very high resolution that will allow us to capture the fine details of the original document.

The key point is that, either way, we can have our cake and eat it. too. Interchanging between the digital world and the analog world of microfilm is both practical and achievable. the tradeoffs being ones of permanence, resolution and speed. We can exploit the preservation advantages of microfilm today, and the access advantages of digital technologies tomorrow. We can transmit the scanned digital images to distant computer workstations for viewing, and we can print out high-quality paper facsimiles whenever and wherever they are needed.

Let me assure you that the nation’s investment in microfilming for preservation continues to be a wise investment. It does not preclude exploiting the advantages of digital access today, nor at any time in the future.

The second hurdle to be overcome underscores this choice. Technology changes rapidly. The forms in which data are stored are also continuing to change. Standards are still evolving. As a result we cannot guarantee that images scanned and stored in digital form today will be accessible even five years from now, let alone five hundred, any more than today we can easily read the punched cards of yesterday. Until we learn how to institutionalize the process of refreshing our stored digital images–or to provide alternative forms of backup–to keep up with changing technologies. the stable and standardized properties of microfilm must command our primary attention for preservation. even as digital technologies evolve to provide improved access.

Finally. the third hurdle. We still have much to learn about the best ways to store. share, index, and access digital information. Rapid progress is being made, both in the private and higher educational sectors. The Coalition for Networked Information. a consortium of around two hundred universities and other institutions is taking leadership in addressing the complex issues involved. Prototype projects are underway. and you will see rapid progress. University faculty. Librarians and publishers no longer view the electronic library in the manner of St. Augustine who prayed Lord, give me chastity–but not yet, but are coming to regard it as a concept whose time is upon us, not to replace the paper library, but to augment it.

College Libraries and the NEH Preservation Program

Kathleen M Spencer. Librarian Franklin Marshall College: Chair, Commission on Preservation and Access College Libraries Committee

I am exceedingly pleased to tell you how important the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Program is to college libraries, and how essential it is for colleges that the support be continued.

Most of the grants for preservation have been awarded to the large research libraries. This is predictable, and also appropriate. Does this mean that college libraries have been left out? Or, conversely, have the large preservation grants to the major university libraries had an impact on the many small libraries throughout our nation? The answers are: College libraries have not been left out, and yes, the grants have had an impact, and I am happy to tell you why. The system of libraries throughout the United States functions very much like a complicated ecosystem. It is made up of large research libraries, public libraries of every shape and size, academic libraries like the one I represent, and so-called special libraries; and there exists among us a balance and inter-dependence much like the balance we observe in nature. The end result is the unprecedented availability of library resources far beyond what is available and accessible anywhere else in the world.

I remember visiting the giant redwoods in California as a child and being overwhelmed, not only by how gigantic they were, but by the gorgeous fuchsia in hundreds of varieties growing in the density of the woods. Federal funds for library preservation, like the light that filters through a forest, contribute to the health and well-being of the total system.

Franklin & Marshall College was founded in 1787. It is the seventeenth oldest college in the country, and has an outstanding record for producing scientists and physicians. We are proud, none-the-less, of our alumni who have distinguished themselves among your ranks; most recently William Gray and Kenneth Duberstein, and our 20 or so other alums who currently serve on Capitol Hill. Even though our charter claims 1787 as our founding date, the college really didn’t get off the ground until the middle of the last century. Our history is not unique; in fact higher education in the United States is, for the most part, a phenomenon of the late 1¡,th century. Predictably, that’s when American scholarship burgeoned and as a result when many academic libraries were established. Unfortunately, that is also when machine-made papers from wood pulp entered the marketplace.

I and my colleagues in college libraries are faced with precisely the same problem as directors of large research libraries. The raw numbers may not be the same, but the percentage is constant. At my institution, 25% of our 350,000 volumes are in a state of serious embrittlement. That’s 87,500 books. A recent survey of 68 libraries at highly selective liberal colleges reports the total number of volumes held at 25.5 million. If indeed 25% of these volumes are brittle–which study after study proves–we are faced with a serious problem–6.2 million brittle books in only 68 libraries! Alone we are not able to cope with this catastrophe. and therefore we look to our research library partners for help. Since many of these books have been microfilmed through the NEH initiative, we are not without hope. because materials reformatted with federal funds are available to us for purchase or to borrow through the national interlibrary loan network. The important point here is that we have, and will continue to have, ACCESS to these materials well beyond the time that our own copies have turned to dust.

In addition, college libraries have recently been encouraged by NEH to apply for grants. I am delighted to report that Amherst College has received a substantial grant to microfilm the papers of diplomat, financier, and lawyer Dwight W. Morrow. We are also hopeful that Haverford College’s proposal to microfilm their unique collection of Quaker materials is successful on this round. The College Libraries Committee of the Commission on Preservation and Access, which I chair. is actively encouraging other colleges to compete for these dollars.

NEH funds for preservation are directly responsible for the fact that I am here today. Because of my horror at encountering a serious problem at Franklin &, Marshall, I decided to face the music and to begin a preservation program at my library. I was extremely fortunate in hiring a librarian who had been trained as a National Endowment for the Humanities preservation intern, and together we have established what is, I am told, a model program for a college. And, as a result, we have received several grants to carry out preservation and conservation projects.

  • For example, we have been able to restore our Fraktur collection. These are birth and baptismal certificates decorated in the colorful Pennsylvania German style. I’ve brought a couple along to show you. Although the restoration was not funded by NEH but with private foundation funding, the lab that did the work has benefited from the Endowment’s support which, in turn, has helped to make them an ongoing concern. Without trained persons in preservation and conservation, work like this could not have been done at an affordable price.
  • In February, Franklin Marshall will be hosting a hands-on workshop in disaster preparedness funded with a small grant from the Department of Education. We will be learning emergency techniques to reclaim books damaged by fire and flood. The workshop will be conducted by the Pittsburgh Regional Library Center whose preservation program has benefited greatly from NEH support. Representatives of 17 small libraries in the eastern part of Pennsylvania will participate.
  • Last summer, the College Libraries Committee of the Commission on Preservation and Access sponsored a workshop to train part-time preservation librarians from liberal arts colleges. This workshop was conducted by a library agency in the southeast called SOLINET–also a beneficiary of NEH funding for library preservation. Our committee is currently exploring uses of digital technology for college libraries. With the availability of the National Research and Education Network (NREN), the possibilities For transfer of digitized materials over the high-speed fiber-optic network seem limitless. And I’m absolutely convinced that brittle books reformatted by digital technology will soon be bouncing around the country. Here the National Science Foundation and its grants to connect colleges and universities to the Internet plays a partnership role in facilitating the ACCESS to scholarly information. I will end here by making the point that monies appropriated for good programs–such as the National Endowment for the Humanities preservation initiative–have far-reaching consequences and that, in this instance, the “trickle-down effect’ is for real.

Board Accepts Assessment Report

Billy E. Frye, chairman, has announced the Board’s acceptance of the Review and Assessment Committee Report, citing its substantial contribution to the goals and planning of the Commission and noting, in particular, their commitment to maintain a practice of quinquennial review to assess progress and future direction. Copies of the report have been widely distributed; additional copies are available from the Commission at no charge.

The Board also reiterated the Commission s role as one of initiating, catalyzing, and stimulating allied organizations to become involved in preservation and access initiatives, rather than funding and operating an expanding number of programs itself.

Participants Reach Working Agreement on Minimum Standards for Data Exchange

Participants in the May 1990 Zurich conference sponsored by the Commission have reached a working agreement on minimum standards for international exchange of bibliographic records of microform masters. The agreement is based on the concept of a minimal exchange record and a home record that can be enhanced at local expense.

Although there was not total unanimity on the comments received, there was generally a clear preference expressed on the issues raised…,” noted Thomas Delsey, Director of Policy and Planning, National Library of Canada, who is coordinating the development of the requirements document. The ‘ clear preference provides a solid base upon which to build a cooperative international program, with the understanding that participants will continue to work out differences as they gain experience and perspective in this unprecedented international cooperative effort.

The agreement incorporates revisions submitted by the Zurich meeting participants as well as the Library of Congress, Research Libraries Group Inc., Association of Research Libraries, and OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc.

The Commission is sharing the document with a wider international audience, urging voluntary compliance with the set of minimal requirements.

Documentation Strategy Task Force Begins to Explore Benchmarks

The new Task Force on Documentation Strategy reviewed a discussion paper prepared by member Richard Cox of the University of Pittsburgh, The Archival Documentation Strategy: Fundamental Assumptions and Major Planning Steps, and related the assumptions to preservation issues during its first meeting on February 1 at the Commission offices. The task force also began to develop benchmarks for institutions to meet before requesting external funding for a preservation project. Members agreed that grant requirements could be very useful in encouraging institutional change.

Before the next meeting on March 7, the group’s chair, Tim Ericson of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, will draft a statement of underlying assumptions to provide a conceptual framework within which to make preservation decisions. Other members will develop sets of questions to be asked of a preservation project at one of three possible levels of treatment. In addition to Cox and Ericson, members include Bruce Bruemmer, University of Minnesota; and Karen Garlick, National Archives and Records Administration.

The task force is one of two new groups formed by the Commission to carry forward the development of a collaborative strategy for preservation of and access to archival manuscript and photographic collections. (See November-December 1991 and January 1992 newsletters for more details.)

Commission on Preservation and Access
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington, DC 20036-2217
(202) 939-3400 Fax: (202) 939-3407

The Commission on Preservation and Access was established in 1986 to foster and support collaboration among libraries and allied organizations in order to ensure the preservation of the published and documentary record in all formats and to provide enhanced access to scholarly information.

The Newsletter reports on cooperative national and international preservation activities and is written primarily for university administrators and faculty, library and archives administrators, preservation specialists and administrators, and representatives of consortia, governmental bodies, and other groups sharing in the Commission’s goals. The Newsletter is not copyrighted; its duplication and distribution are encouraged.

Patricia Battin–President
Maxine K. Sitts–Program Officer, Editor


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