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Task Force Reports on Saving Historical Evidence

subject: artifact
artifact collections
original material
scholarly research
print collections
paper collections
audiovisual collections
digital collections
library collections
analog materials
Artifact Task Force
Task Force on the Artifact
Task Force on the Artifact in Library Collections
selection for preservation criteria
preservation criteria

CLIR Press Release


For Immediate Release: November 21, 2001

Contact: Abby Smith 202-939-4758

Task Force Reports on Saving Historical Evidence

Washington, D.C.—The evidence of our history that is carried in print, audiovisual, or digital forms is kept mostly by libraries and archives, and we rely on them to make it accessible over time. Yet these institutions face a serious challenge. The amount of information produced each year grows dramatically, but, more importantly, it is recorded on a vast array of media and in numerous formats, from newspapers to wax cylinders to video tape. Many of the media have become fragile and much of the technology obsolete. For libraries, the complexity and potential cost of keeping materials fit for use grows each day.

Paradoxically, at a time when more material is made available virtually—online—there is a growing demand for access to original materials. Yet libraries and archives have never had enough funds to collect and preserve everything of potential research value. Librarians and archivists are thus left to make difficult decisions about how much and what can be acquired, preserved, and made accessible in meaningful ways.

This problem is addressed in a new report from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), entitled The Evidence in Hand: Report of the Task Force on the Artifact in Library Collections. CLIR created the task force of scholars, librarians, and archivists in 1999. Its members were asked to articulate a framework for making or evaluating institutional policies for the retention of published materials and archival or unpublished materials in their original form.

In five sections, the report presents the problem and its implications; a discussion of the term “artifact”; an examination of the problems associated with particular media, from print and paper to audiovisual and digital; five case studies; and a summary and recommendations.

Among the recommendations is a call to support the development of regional repositories of artifactual collections that would reduce duplication of effort, create economies of scale, and ensure that the greatest number of unique or scarce items are preserved and made accessible to researchers. The recommendations also call for the creation of standardized descriptive practices that make information about resources readily accessible through searchable databases. Strategies for specific formats—print, audiovisual, and digital—are noted, and areas for further research are proposed.

The Evidence in Hand is available on CLIR’s Web site at Print copies will soon be available for ordering through the Web site.

The Council on Library and Information Resources works in partnership with libraries, archives, and other information providers to advocate collaborative approaches to preserving the nation’s intellectual heritage. It works to support institutions as they integrate audiovisual and digital resources and services into their well-established, print-based environments.

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