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CLIR Annual Report: 1998 – 1999

CLIR Annual Report: 1998 – 1999

Preservation and Access
CLIR has an ongoing commitment to the preservation efforts of libraries and archives throughout the United States and abroad. The purpose of preservation is to ensure the continued access of library resources into the future. The Commission on Preservation and Access helped to create the conditions that fostered the growth and maturation of preservation as a profession and the establishment of preservation activities as core functions in research libraries. Looking ahead to a world in which libraries will be responsible for items in increasingly complex formats and recorded on increasingly fragile media, CLIR continues to serve as an advocate for preservation and to support the professional infrastructure that provides preservation services.

The digital revolution in information creation and dissemination has increased appreciation of the importance of making analog materials available for research in their original form when possible and, when not, of reformatting onto preservation-quality microfilm. Several CLIR publications that appeared this year addressed how libraries can and should ensure long-term access to recorded knowledge. The Future of the Past: Preservation in American Research Libraries focused on the desirability of scholars and librarians to collaborate on needs analysis for preservation. In an era when even professional librarians are questioning what role they will play in the future, this report underscores the critical and irreplaceable role of library as custodian of the historical record in the most authentic form possible. The report Why Digitize? was written to inform a wide audience of administrators, funders, and humanists of what preservation specialists know well: that digital conversion is an excellent tool for access but does not yet replace microfilming for preservation reformatting purposes. CLIR also published two papers, Selecting Research Collections for Digitization, and Digitization for Scholarly Use: The Boswell Papers Project at The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, to report on how digital conversion of selected collections can best serve access to scholarly resources. The reports are especially valuable in their realistic assessment of what digitization can and cannot do, in particular addressing the intensive use of scarce specialized resources to achieve results that are so far hard to measure with accuracy.

While continuing to articulate the need for tried-and-true preservation techniques in light of the fragility of digital media, CLIR has also taken steps this year to promote possible solutions to the digital preservation challenge. It is supporting an assessment of the long-term risks of migrating numerous file formats over time; Cornell University Library, together with Cornell’s computing science department, is developing a tool to analyze the risk of migrating selected textual and numeric formats. CLIR also published a report on emulation entitled, Avoiding Technological Quicksand: Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation. The report propounds a software solution to the problem of obsolescent formats that, when developed, should allow access to superceded software and hardware configurations.

Access to resources for scholarship has assumed new importance and urgency this past year as libraries face increasing difficulties in acquiring and making accessible the resources that scholars require to do their research. Access to resources for scholarship has assumed new importance and urgency this past year as libraries face increasing difficulties in acquiring and making accessible the resources that scholars require to do their research. In some cases, that is because budgets are failing to keep up with the real costs of acquisition and preservation. In other cases, it is because the recording media of this century, such as videotape or LPs, are very fragile and research remains to be done to establish best practices for stabilizing these items. In yet others it is because scholars are using non-print and special collections with renewed intensity and are in need of better finding aids and search and retrieval tools. As more funding, from both internal and external sources, is made available to libraries to convert analog materials into digital form, CLIR is devoting time and attention to promoting best practices for image capture. Together with DLF, CLIR has funded a series of guides to digital image capture, written not by preservationists but by experts in imaging. The guides will be copublished with the Research Libraries Group (RLG) on our Web sites.

Working with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and RLG, CLIR began a project this year to codify best practices in hybrid conversion from microform to digital images. Over several years, the Commission on Preservation and Access and NEH provided funds for staff of Cornell and Yale universities to study the conversion of microfilm to digital images and to produce computer output microfilm from digital scans. CLIR has mounted on its Web site a draft report that summarizes the current state of knowledge, identifies areas that need further research and development, and recommends a course of action to meet those needs.

To extend the reach of resources for scholars, both libraries and museums have been digitizing their culturally significant holdings in order to provide high-quality educational content on the Web. CLIR received a National Leadership Project grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to hold a conference of library and museum leaders that will address the policy issues and technical and intellectual challenges of developing high-quality digital collections for distribution on the Web. The results of the conference will be published shortly after the meeting, scheduled for October 1999.

There remain many parts of the world where the preservation profession has yet to mature and preservation activities have yet to become established as core functions in research libraries. For the past decade, CLIR’s international program has sought to build preservation awareness and capacity, and to encourage the actions needed to make preservation activity self-sustaining over time.

Nowhere is the success of this approach more apparent than in Brazil. A project that began with a modest goal of translating preservation literature into Portuguese has spawned an active, coordinated network of preservation professionals and educators. The project, which CLIR began to support in 1996 with funds from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was recognized this year by receiving Brazil’s most prestigious cultural heritage award—the Rodrigo Melo Franco de Adrade. The project has inspired similar work elsewhere in Latin America: Chile recently started a project for Spanish translations and training, with support from the Mellon Foundation.

South Africa figured prominently in CLIR’s work this year. The profound social and political changes taking place there have brought new pressures but also new opportunities. With support from CLIR, the University of Cape Town organized a regional meeting for librarians, archivists, and museum staff to identify common problems in preservation, discuss priorities for addressing problems, and explore modes of regional cooperation. Reporting on the meeting, its organizer wrote, “It emerged that the timing of the event had been most opportune, as national bodies such as the archives, national libraries, and museums are all undergoing restructuring and transformation, and that these organisations might take on different responsibilities and find new ways of doing things.”

South Africans have identified training as the greatest need, since no formal training opportunities exist domestically. CLIR supported two three-day preservation workshops in Durban and Cape Town, led by staff of the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The workshops were designed to provide decision-makers and managers in South African libraries and archives with current thinking on a range of issues related to preservation management. Participants judged the workshops a success, and plans are being made for related activities in the coming year.

The need abroad for practical and up-to-date information on preservation management remains enormous. CLIR cooperated with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to publish the IFLA Principles for the Care and Handling of Library Material, a third and fully revised edition of the manual first published in 1979. The Principles provides an introduction to preservation practice and is aimed at individuals and institutions with little or no knowledge of this area. IFLA has distributed 3,000 copies in English worldwide, and translations into Spanish and Portuguese are under way. With support from CLIR, the Library of Foreign Literature, Moscow, translated the Principles into Russian and distributed copies throughout Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

While building preservation awareness and capacity remain central to the agenda of the international program, the overarching goal has been to ensure that materials remain accessible for use by scholars worldwide. While building preservation awareness and capacity remain central to the agenda of the international program, the overarching goal has been to ensure that materials remain accessible for use by scholars worldwide. In April, CLIR joined with the Library of Congress to cosponsor a two-day meeting of American and Greek scholars and librarians. The purpose of the meeting was to share information about holdings in important collections in the United States and Greece and to develop an agenda for cooperation in the preservation and exchange of materials. Participants formed a bilateral Modern Greek Collections Working Group to coordinate an ambitious agenda of activities. Plans include making arrangements for materials exchange, conservation training in the United States, paleography training in Greece, the contribution of Greek bibliographic records of preserved materials to the European Register of Microform Masters, and the creation of a shared database into which Greek records can be transliterated. The group has established both a listserv and a Web site to enhance communications among its members and with other scholars.

The desire to make research holdings more broadly available for scholarly use has led many libraries and archives to begin converting portions of their holdings to digital form. But few institutions have taken such projects beyond the pilot phase, and, in terms of duration and size, no project matches that undertaken by the Archivo General de Indias, in Seville, Spain. In 1988, the Archivo began to digitize more than eleven million pages of documents relating to Spanish history in the New World. The Archive’s former director, Pedro González, wrote an account of the project, entitled Computerization of the Archivo General de Indias: Strategies and Results, which CLIR published in September. In describing the day-to-day practical problems of operation as well as longer-term issues, such as the obsolescence of hardware, software, and storage media, the report provides an excellent case study of a large-scale conversion project and its challenges over a decade.

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