by Deanna B. Marcum
Digital Archiving: What We Preserve, Not How
by Abby Smith
CLIR Supports Preservation Training Abroad
by Kathlin Smith
Frye Leadership Institute Program Update
by Susan Rosenblatt
THE ASSOCIATION OF Research Libraries’ most recent preservation statistics reveal a disturbing pattern—research libraries have been investing less in traditional preservation for the last few years. No doubt this unfortunate trend mirrors the decrease in available dollars from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for preservation microfilming projects. NEH suffered a 40 percent overall reduction in funding in 1996, and the available preservation dollars shrank accordingly. In addition, the dollars available have been increasingly spread among research tools, technology-based projects, and traditional preservation work, in part because of new mandates and priorities. NEH has responded to the community’s shifting interests in preservation and access.
In 1986, when the Commission on Preservation and Access was founded, Dean Robert Hayes, then dean of UCLA’s School of Library and Information Science, was commissioned by the Council on Library Resources to study the dimensions of the brittle books problem. He estimated that within the research university libraries, some nine million unique volumes were at serious risk of being lost forever because they were printed on acidic paper. Furthermore, he suggested that a collaborative effort could result in the preservation of one-third of the endangered volumes. NEH recognized the severity of the preservation problem and launched a twenty-year effort to ensure the information contained in at last three million volumes from 1865 to the present would be available for scholars and students in the future.
NEH allocated $12.3 million to the Office of Preservation in 1989 when it launched the Brittle Books program. In 1991, NEH elevated the Office of Preservation to the Division of Preservation and Access and increased the allocation to nearly $20 million. NEH’s expenditures for preservation and access reached a high mark of $25,137,489 in 1992. But since 1996, expenditures have remained constant at just over $18 million.
Just over a decade of NEH funding has been invested in preservation microfilming. Some 860,000 volumes have been preserved—less than one-third of the original goal.
This number is more than disappointing. It is also worrying, because it reflects some of the contextual factors underlying libraries’ decisions about preservation. It seems, in hindsight, that preservation of brittle books has been viewed chiefly as an additional activity—one that will be done when external funds are available. At the same time, foundations and government agencies have been quick to provide funds for digitization projects. This has happened to some extent at the expense of in-house preservation reformatting programs. It is small wonder that preservation staffs, not having sufficient funding to sustain production levels of preservation microfilming, have been reassigned to image capture projects.
While there have been some efforts to define best practices for hybrid conversion projects—simultaneous preservation microfilming and digital image capture—the preliminary data on costs have been unacceptable to the funding agencies. They do not believe we can afford both processes and they recognize that digital capture is a more attractive approach. Focusing on the future and confident that the transition to digital preservation is close at hand, they ask “How can we ensure that digital objects can be preserved?”
The philanthropic and government funders have invested deeply in digital technology. They are pushing libraries to find solutions to the problem of preserving digital information, and CLIR, along with many other library organizations, continually seeks answers to the challenge of long-term access. But working on the complex problem of digital preservation does not absolve our responsibility to rescue the millions of print volumes that are turning to dust on our libraries’ shelves. And it does not reduce the urgency of finding solutions to the problem of preserving films, videos, and recorded sound, recording media whose life spans are already known to be far shorter than acidic paper.
Libraries and archives are society’s vehicles for ensuring that the knowledge that is created today will be preserved for tomorrow’s researchers and inquiries. That obligation transcends any budget allocation or promise of external funds. The problem of brittle books has not disappeared. The problem of preserving audio and visual materials continues unabated.
It is time to consider what extraordinary means will be necessary to preserve the deteriorating collections in research libraries. Perhaps we have to be more realistic about what can be accomplished with external funds. Clearly, we must press hard to find answers to digital preservation worries, and we need to re-examine the full range of preservation methods so that microfilming is but one of the techniques employed.
But most of all, library decision makers must recognize their responsibility for passing the knowledge of past generations securely on to the next generation. Perhaps the time has come to identify—and fund—a few institutions that will assume the responsibility on behalf of all. Perhaps we should work harder to identify—in collaboration with scholars—those titles that are most important to preserve and establish emergency procedures for the most important endangered titles. Perhaps it is time to revisit the original study of brittle books and revise it according to the new understandings and assumptions that inform our current approaches to sound collection management.
We can revise the original plan derived from the Hayes study, if need be, but we cannot discard our obligation to be stewards of library collections. Preservation continues to be critically important, and it is our responsibility to keep pressing the issue.
AMONG THE GREATEST challenges to ensuring the long-term accessibility of digital information is determining what it is that must be preserved. By now, most librarians and archivists are well aware of the technical challenges of saving bits and bytes, and those challenges are daunting indeed. But beyond technical problems, there is a range of preservation issues that are in flux because they depend upon common understandings that have not yet been created. These have to do with deciding precisely what it is that must be preserved in and about a digital object. It took several centuries after the invention of movable type for standards for orthography, typography, composition of fascicles and volumes, even consensus about what a text is and how to determine its authenticity, to emerge. Suddenly, we find ourselves faced with the urgent necessity to recast all our common understandings in light of the digital environment. Publishers of electronic journals, for example, want to know if the archivable version of a journal article comprises the information in the article, or the article with all its links and current formatting, and so forth. Federal archivists want to know what specific parts of electronic mail need to be preserved with the contents of the message in order for that digital object to be deemed a record. Some authors claim that, because the most essential quality of a digital object is its mutability, the very notion of preservation cannot depend upon fixity—a sine qua non of the print world. What, after all, is hypertext without its interactivity? And how can a mutable text be copyright protected?
The answers to these questions have profound implications for, among other things, the accountability of the government to its citizens, the integrity of scientific information, and the development of technical solutions to digital preservation. Indeed, technical solutions in many ways depend upon our ability to identify what aspects of a bitstream are essential to its identity and hence must be preserved to maintain authenticity. Some argue that a digital object is an executable program that must retain all its original functionalities over time to be deemed authentic. Others argue just as forcefully that preservation should focus on capturing a digital object at the time of creation in order to provide the context (provenance, order, and so forth) needed to render that object as evidence. These distinctions are vital and influence the methodology chosen for preservation as well as what metadata must be created to accompany any digital object over time. The arguments over methodology—emulation vs. migration, for example—often mask a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes authenticity in digital objects.
Behind any definition of authenticity lie assumptions about the meaning and significance of content, fixity, consistency of reference, provenance, and context. The complexities of these concepts and the consequences for digital objects were explored in the 1996 paper Preserving Digital Information: Report of the Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information. Because there is no universal mandate about what must preserved and for what purpose (for example, an archivist’s emphasis on records that bear evidence vs. a librarian’s emphasis on content that could serve multiple purposes over time), there may be many ways to describe the item being preserved and what aspects of the item must be documented to ensure its authenticity and its ability to serve its purpose over time. The issue of authenticity must also be resolved before humanists and scientists can feel confident in creating and relying upon digital information.
What are the core attributes that, if missing, would render the object something other than what it purports to be? The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) will convene a group of experts representing different domains of the information resources community to answer this question. The primary goal of this project is to create a common understanding of key concepts and the terms various communities—librarians, archivists, computer scientists, historians, lawyers, and others—use to articulate them. Can we define the distinct attributes of an information resource that would set the parameters for preservation and mandate specific metadata elements, among other important criteria?
CLIR will publish a report of the work accomplished at the meeting. By doing so, we hope to clarify terminology, to give guidance to those developing specifications for description and preservation of electronic documents, and to enlighten various constituencies generally about multiple aspects of integrity and authenticity.
Hans Rütimann to Become Consultant
Director of International Developments Hans Rütimann left the staff of CLIR in December to continue his international work as an independent consultant. He joined the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA) in 1988 with a mandate to expand the Commission’s work abroad. He began that effort in Europe, where he sought institutions and individuals that shared concerns about the deterioration of print-based collections and the threats posed by acid paper. With funding for international activities from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rütimann led the CPA’s initiative to expand preservation efforts across the globe. CLIR will continue the international work that Rütimann began with the CPA.
PRESERVATION IS AN important aspect of collection management. Brittle books, degrading magnetic tape, and ephemeral digital files have shown that enduring access to our recorded history will be in jeopardy unless there is a commitment to preservation. As the number of items to be preserved has multiplied faster than budgets can accommodate, difficult decisions must be made about what to preserve and how. The issues are sufficiently complex that some institutions have created positions in preservation management to address them.
In many parts of the world, however, preservation concerns are accorded low priority. Staffing for preservation is minimal, if it exists, and it is extremely rare to find institutions with preservation departments. Staff members who work with deteriorating materials acknowledge the need for preservation, but they typically lack the information to propose workable solutions and often work in institutional structures where cross-departmental cooperation is difficult.
In these countries, opportunities for training in basic preservation measures tend to be rare or nonexistent, partly because there is little formal demand for such professionals. But unless staff are trained to assess the situation, articulate the problems, and develop strategies for improvement, progress in preservation is unlikely to ever take place. How can such a vicious circle be broken?
Mid-career training of library and archival staff can be an effective first step—even if they have had no previous responsibility for preservation. Preservation begins with awareness of the value of cultural heritage and the needs to protect it against the threats of use and environmental factors. A staff member with some training in preservation management can help an institution make the most of available resources, even when they are severely limited, and can draw attention to areas where the risk to valuable materials is especially acute.
CLIR recently awarded funds to promote mid-career training in basic preservation management in Greece and South Africa. In both projects, participants, who will be drawn from institutions countrywide, are expected to train others upon their return home.
In the first project, CLIR will join with The National Book Centre (NBC) of Greece to support a series of preservation workshops for public and academic library staff. In preparation for the workshops, selected current literature in preservation will be translated into Greek and distributed. The translations and workshops will be the first significant activities of a new National Preservation Resource Center, housed at the NBC. Work on translations will begin in January 2000 and will be completed early the following year. Three regional workshops will be held in 2001.
In the second project, CLIR has contracted with The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) to conduct a workshop on managing preservation at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2000. Participants will be drawn primarily from libraries and archives. The workshop is designed to train participants in establishing priorities for preservation, and is a logical sequel to introductory courses that were held in Durban and Cape Town last spring. Faculty from both South Africa and the United States will teach the sessions. The South African teachers will form part of a core group that will oversee subsequent regional workshops. A special feature of the workshop will be hands-on work in preservation assessment. One day will be devoted to site visits where participants will conduct preservation surveys. The following day, they will meet in the classroom to discuss what they encountered on the site visits and how they would go about setting priorities there.
Abroad, the need for training is enormous and remains the highest priority for most collecting institutions. Developing capacity through mid-career training is a cost-effective first step for making preservation a more important and permanent aspect of collection management. CLIR is pleased to be working with committed individuals in Greece and South Africa to develop training programs and to foster the incremental growth of the preservation infrastructure.
THE DATE OF the first session of the Billy E. Frye Leadership Institute—June 4-16, 2000—is rapidly approaching. With the help of the advisory committee, EDUCAUSE, Emory University, and under the leadership of the co-deans, Richard Detweiler, President of Hartwick College, and Deanna Marcum, President of the Council on Library and Information Resources, we have designed a stimulating curriculum and recruited an extraordinary faculty.
The mission of the Frye Institute is to help universities and colleges develop twenty-first-century leaders of information services. The rapidly changing landscape of higher education and meteoric growth in the availability of digital information are transforming the management of information resources and services on campuses. The Frye Leadership Institute is designed for individuals in higher education who aspire to significant leadership roles in information management. The curriculum is designed to offer participants new perspectives on critical issues in higher education, to foster interaction and team-building among the participants, and to strengthen individual leadership skills. The program is highly interactive, consisting of seminars, small group projects and exercises, and participant-led activities. The participants themselves—representing a variety of institutions, professional backgrounds, academic disciplines, and ethnic backgrounds—will enrich the experience and forge a powerful network for future growth and mentoring.
In addition to the co-deans Detweiler and Marcum, faculty will include: Roger Bagnall, Professor of Classics, Columbia University; Patricia Battin, Consultant; Jerry D. Campbell, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, University of Southern California; Stanley Chodorow, University of California, Office of the President; Rebecca Chopp, Provost, Emory University; John D’Arms, President, ACLS; James Duderstadt, President Emeritus, University of Michigan; Billy E. Frye, Chancellor, Emory University; Brian Hawkins, President, EDUCAUSE; Stanley Ikenberry, President, American Council on Education; Peter Likins, President, University of Arizona; Pat McPherson, Vice President, Mellon Foundation; Margaret Plympton, Vice President for Finance and Administration, Bucknell University; and Karin Wittenborg, University Librarian, University of Virginia.
Major Program Sessions
The problems and potential of information technology are inseparable from broader issues in higher education. Thus the broader higher education perspective will be a continuous theme throughout the Institute. Participants will have the opportunity to understand better the key issues in higher education as viewed by presidents, chief academic officers, faculty, chief financial officers, trustees, and other stakeholders. They will engage such questions as: What are the implications of these issues and perspectives for the management of information resource and service leadership? How might a campus develop a vision and strategy that includes information technology to address these problems? What are the implications for leadership in the next decade?
Using information technology to address the opportunities for and threats to higher education requires leaders to introduce innovation within highly conservative institutions. Participants will actively engage the question of how leaders can foster a campus environment that supports innovation. Underlying all of these sessions will be the key question of what constitutes effective leadership in an era of transformational change; it will be incorporated in exercises, interactions with established leaders, and through the practicum in the year following the institute. Participants will consider such questions as how one becomes an effective leader, how the leader introduces transformational change, and what can be done to change attitudes.
Within the broader themes of issues and innovation in higher education, sessions will address key information issues within the university. These sessions include scholarly communication, teaching and learning, intellectual property, public policy and higher education, the impact of technology on college and university economics, budgeting, and organization.
The practicum project provides a laboratory for exploring the ideas and strategies introduced during the residential portion of the Institute. The practicum, which should be designed to address a significant information resource or service problem on the home campus, is intended to provide a learning experience for the individual and to serve as a vehicle to broaden understanding at the home institution.
Applications and Scholarships
Applications were being accepted through December 31, 1999. The Institute of Museum and Library Services has provided funds for scholarships to support attendance of underrepresented minorities, the Mellon Foundation has provided a grant to assist individuals from liberal arts colleges, and there are a limited number of need-based scholarships. For further information, see the Institute’s website or contact the coordinator, Susan Rosenblatt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Council on Library and Information Resources|
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Washington, DC 20036
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The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grew out of the 1997 merger of the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Council on Library Resources. CLIR identifies the critical issues that affect the welfare and prospects of libraries and archives and the constituencies they serve, convenes individuals and organizations in the best position to engage these issues and respond to them, and encourages institutions to work collaboratively to achieve and manage change.