CPA Newsletter #85, Jan 1996

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access

Newsletter

January 1996

Number 85

WWW Pages Available to Public

The Commission has inaugurated World Wide Web pages available to the public at the following address:

http://www-cpa.stanford.edu/cpa.html

The home page introduces the Commission’s basic programs and provides links to other information about the Commission’s initiatives. The full texts of newsletters and many past reports also are available. An online Order Form is provided for WWW users to print-off and obtain Commission publications. Another feature enables users to conduct quick keyword searches of all the Commission’s online documents. Links are being developed to WWW sites of other organizations working on collaborative preservation and access projects.

Visitors to the WWW page can contact Commission staff directly via email from the staff home page. The WWW site is being developed and maintained for the Commission by the Stanford University Libraries. Under the agreement, a home page also is available for the Council on Library Resources, which affiliated with the Commission in April. The Council’s home page address is:

    http://www-clr.stanford.edu/clr.html

As with all Web pages, the Commission’s page is regularly revised and corrected. Users are asked to send their suggested changes to the Commission’s Communication Program via U.S. mail; fax–202/939-3499; or email–mksitts@cpa.org.

Report Introduces Approach to Environmental Monitoring

A new method for monitoring the effects of dynamic environmental conditions on organic materials promises to make it easier–and, in many cases, cheaper–for libraries and archives to maintain long-term access to their collections. The new approach to preservation management applies to the many types of scholarly resources for which research and academic institutions are responsible. The Image Permanence Institute (IPI), Rochester, NY, has developed the method with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Division of Preservation and Access. In addition to preparing the report described below, IPI is designing an electronic instrument for environmental monitoring.

The report, New Tools for Preservation. Assessing Long-Term Environmental Effects on Library and Archives Collections(November 1995, 35 pages), introduces the concept of the Time Weighted Preservation Index (TWPI). This new technology represents a further evolution of the philosophy embodied in Donald Sebera’s Isoperms, An Environmental Management Tool (June 1994). Both reports were published by the Commission. The TWPI provides a new way to measure and quantify how temperature and humidity changes affect the preservation quality of storage environments for paper, photographic, and magnetic tape collections, indeed for any type of organic material. New Tools for Preservationillustrates the concept with examples and explains how relatively small changes in storage conditions can result in significant improvements in the useful life of collections. In many cases, it will be possible to both save money and maintain access for longer periods of time.

The concepts offered in the new report represent a continuing trend toward utilization of scientific principles in preservation management. In early 1994, the Commission’s Preservation Science Council (PSC) put forward six high-priority research projects, most dealing with the theme of understanding and using the storage environment to better advantage. The PSCalso identified an urgent need for more management tools by which critical relationships, such as the one between the rate of chemical change and environmental conditions, could be understood and applied in practice.

New Tools for Preservation is available, while supplies last, for $10.00 (prepayment required) from the Commission; or Image Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, 70 Lomb Memorial Dr., Rochester, NY 14623-5604. Sponsors of the Commission receive reports at no charge.

INSIDE: Realizing Benefits from Inter-Institutional Agreements–an insert on the implications of the report of the Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information. Donald J. Waters, co-chair of the task force, presented this paper during the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Annual Membership Meeting October 10, 1995. The executive summary of the report can be found in the October 1995 newsletter (#83).

ECPA Receives Grant, Plans International Conference

The European Commission on Preservation and Access (ECPA), formally constituted in March 1994, has received a grant of 1.5 million Swedish crowns (about $220,000 U.S.) from the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation. The grant provides partial operational support over the next three years for the non-profit organization, which is housed at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam.

As representatives from archives, libraries and the academic community, ECPA members all are involved in projects concerning preservation and access in national and international contexts. Given the role of the ECPA as a platform for joint European initiatives, the need for strong cooperation with organizations and institutions working in the field is central to discussions about future activities. Recent developments in Europe, such as research on legal deposit of electronic publications and long-term availability of digital information, were of interest during the group’s October 22-23, 1995, meeting at the Royal Academy.

Choosing To Preserve: Towards a Cooperative Strategy for Long-Term Access to the Intellectual Heritage is the theme of an upcoming international conference organized by the ECPA, together with Die Deutsche Bibliothek Leipzig/Frankfurt am Main. The conference is scheduled to take place at the Haus des Buches in Leipzig March 29-30, 1996. A delegation from the U.S. Commission will meet with the ECPA on the preceding day.

In announcing the conference, the ECPA stated:

Millions of books and documents in libraries and archives are threatened by embrittlement through acidification. The accumulated knowledge they contain will be irretrievably lost unless large-scale programmes are initiated to safeguard the intellectual heritage and keep it accessible for future generations.

At the conference, 16 experts from Europe and the U.S. will present their views on the possibilities for developing coordinated preservation policies and for international cooperation in this area. The aim is to come to general recommendations to preserve paper-based materials from the 19th and 20th centuries. Discussions will center on the following topics:

  • Institutional policies: How do individual institutions deal with the complex task of setting priorities, establishing selection criteria, and choosing the best method for preservation?
  • National policies: How can national institutions fulfill their task of preserving the national cultural heritage in practice, and how does their work relate to the management of collections of local, regional or transnational importance?
  • International cooperation: How can the work of each country to preserve its national heritage be complemented by that of others and duplication of efforts be avoided?
  • Keepers and users: How can scholars, as the most important group of users, be made to realize what is at stake and how exactly can they contribute to the debate?

The Haus des Buches in Leipzig, where the conference will be held, is a newly founded institute that promotes activities on books and reading. The conference will take place during the Leipzig Book Fair, which attracts many visitors from the book trade and the library world every year.

For information and registration forms, contact:

European Commission on Preservation and Access
attn Yola de Lusenet
P.O.Box 19121 NL-1000 GC AMSTERDAM
The Netherlands
tel. ++ 31-20-5510 839
fax ++ 31-20-6204 941
email ECPA@BUREAU.KNAW.NL

For more information on the ECPA, refer to the March 1995 newsletter (No. 76).

Film and Video to Highlight Information
in Digital Environment

The Commission and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) are developing a film and video focusing on the preservation of and access to information in a digital environment. A one hour broadcast film and a 30-minute video version will be created to alert broad audiences to the urgent need to ensure continuing access to knowledge that is created, stored, and distributed electronically.

The project has received funding from three sources: The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Xerox Corporation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The goals of the joint project, as defined by ACLS and the Commission, are three:

  • to raise understanding and awareness of the need to transform the management of electronic information;
  • to dramatize the very short lifespan of electronic information and the need to rethink how continuous access will be provided; and
  • to portray the enormous potential of digital technology for information capture, storage, distribution and access.

The choice of film/video to dramatize the potentials and risks of new technologies derives from the award-winning success of the earlier film, Slow Fires, which was produced by the Council on Library Resources. Slow Fires did for the world of deteriorating and acidic paper what it is hoped the new film will do for the world of electronic information. Research on the upcoming film first began in January 1993, when the Commission engaged Terry Sanders of the American Film Foundation, who produced Slow Fires, to develop an outline during an initial conceptual phase. Last month, a Film Steering Committee met for the first time. Named to the committee are Patricia Battin, Commission consultant on digital projects; Douglas Greenberg, President and Director, Chicago Historical Society; Stanley Katz, President, American Council of Learned Societies; Peter Lyman, University Librarian, University of California at Berkeley, and a member of the Board of the Council on Library Resources; Deanna Marcum, president of the Commission; and filmmaker Terry Sanders. George Farr, head of the NEH Division of Preservation and Access, also has been invited to join.

From the College Libraries Committee
Survey Provides Insights on Staffing, Budgets for Preservation

Since its founding in 1988, the Commission’s College Libraries Committee (CLC) has worked to address the needs of undergraduate institutions with primary emphasis on the preservation of and access to their general collections. Last summer, with the assistance of a project consultant, the CLC distributed a preservation survey to 300 college library directors. Among the goals of the survey were:

  • to update the Commission’s knowledge of college library preservation efforts
  • to establish benchmark data for college library preservation activities
  • to contribute to the establishment of preservation guidelines and standards for college libraries
  • to identify library needs for preservation training and staff development
  • to assist in program development for a spring 1996 workshop on digitizing texts and images
  • to develop a continuing agenda for the College Libraries Committee

Over half (54%) of surveyed institutions responded, and the results offer some valuable insights.

Funding

Sixty percent of respondents reported that between 1 and 4% of their budget allocation is designated for preservation-related activities. Additional sources of funding include grants, one-time allocations from parent institutions, network or consortium funding, targeted endowments, and support from friends groups and private donors.

Staffing

Surveyed libraries devote an average of .52FTE staff to preservation. This staffing level contrasts sharply with that of 1993/94 ARL libraries, 53% of which reported having a full-time preservation administrator.

Staff Development

In the past five years, 76% of surveyed libraries have enrolled one or more staff members in some form of preservation training outside the library. Some 59% offer internal preservation training to library staff, with a common focus on book repair and handling/shelving techniques. New technologies and disaster training are identified as the two areas of greatest training need.

Preservation Priorities

Over one third of respondents (35%) indicate that preservation is a higher priority in their libraries than it was five years ago. Most attribute this change to educational activities and other efforts to raise staff awareness that have increased their abilities to address preservation concerns. In some cases, a new director or other staffing change has brought new expertise and added momentum to the library’s preservation activities.

Needs and Concerns

The chief limitation to addressing preservation concerns in college libraries is insufficient staffing. Limited funding and competing institutional priorities also are cited frequently as major barriers. Environmental controls and college archives are identified as the two most pressing preservation concerns.

The College Libraries Committee wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the work of Consulting Archivist, Victoria Irons Walch. A more complete analysis of survey results is planned for publication later in 1996. Complete results of the survey will be available on the Commission’s WWW site.

Sponsors

In the past month, the following institutions have joined the growing list of sponsors of the Commission:

Duke University
North Carolina Central University
North Carolina State University
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The 61 sponsors include libraries, archives, publishers, universities, colleges, and other allied organizations dedicated to the development of collaborative solutions to preservation and access challenges. A brochure on sponsorship is available from the Commission.

LC to Hold Preservation Awareness Workshop for Public

The Library of Congress will mark National Library Week with a Preservation Awareness Workshop on April 16, 1996. This event, co-sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book and the Preservation Directorate, will be free and open to the public. It will take place in the Mumford Room, sixth floor of the Madison Building, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It contains more than 108 million items that include more than 16 million books, 4 million maps, 14 million photographs, 2 million sound recordings, and 45 million manuscripts. The mission of the Library’s Preservation Directorate is to preserve these collections for future generations.

During this special National Library Week event, the Library of Congress is inviting the public to come and learn about preserving their family treasures, such as photographs and letters. The staff will demonstrate different types of enclosures and boxes for storing material and provide information on the damage caused by humidity, temperature, light, and atmospheric pollution on paper-based material and on the different types of boxes, folders, and enclosures now available. A wide range of companies that manufacture and distribute conservation products will participate. The media are also invited to participate in this educational workshop.

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress was established in 1977 to stimulate public awareness about the importance of books, reading, and libraries. For more information, contact: Merrily Smith, National Preservation Program Office, Library of Congress (LMG07), Washington, DC 20540-4540 Phone: 202-707-1838.

Adapted from LC Press Release

Realizing Benefits from Inter-Institutional Agreements: The Implications of the Draft Report of the Task Force on Digital Archiving

by Donald J. Waters
Associate University Librarian
Yale University

The following paper was presented at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Membership Meeting October 19, 1995, during a program titled “Realizing Benefits from Inter-Institutional Agreements.” This paper and other from the meeting are available on the ARL server

WWW:http://arl.cni.org/arl/proceedings/127/waters.html
Gopher://arl.cni.org:70/00/arl/proceedings/127/waters

The proceedings of the meeting will be published by ARL, 21 Dupont Circle, Washington, DC 20036.

In Over Our Heads

Robert Kagan, a Harvard psychologist, has recently written a wonderful book that I would commend to you for a variety of reasons. It is entitled In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. In this book, Kagan retells the following tale, which some of you have no doubt heard (Kagan 1994: 271). It is a story of a “mother getting breakfast ready for her son on a school day,” and it goes like this:

Hearing nothing indicating that he was up and getting dressed, [the mother] went to [her son’s] room, only to find him in bed. “Are you okay?” she asked. “I’m okay,” he replied, “but I’m not going to school today!” Being a modern mother, she decided to engage him in conversation. “Well, then,” she demanded, “you give me three good reasons why you aren’t going to school.” “Okay,” said her son. “I don’t like school. The teachers don’t like me. And I’m afraid of the kids.” “Okay,” said his mother, “now I’m going to give your three good reasons why you are going to school. Number one, I’m your mother and I say that school is important. Number two, you’re forty five years old. And number three, you’re the principal of the school!

The problems and prospects of archiving digital information have made many of us feel like the school principal in this story: better to stay home in familiar surroundings–the comfort of a warm bed and Mom fixing breakfast in the kitchen–than to face what seems like a terrifyingly uncertain, expensive and time-consuming effort. The Commission on Preservation and Access and the Research Libraries Group (RLG) created the Task Force on the Archiving of Digital Information to help relieve building anxiety about digital archiving. The Task Force sponsors asked it to frame digital archiving as a set problems and tasks and to suggest an orderly, perhaps even manageable, approach to their resolution.

To achieve these goals, the Commission and RLG composed the Task Force of members with a breadth of experience from a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds, including many from the research library community. The Task Force sponsors also asked that the group seek wide input from other specialists and interested parties by issuing a draft report, distributing it widely, and inviting comment before composing a final report. We are now in the comment phase, which ends October 31. I invite ARL as an organization to comment on the report. I also appeal to each of you individually to engage the substance of the draft report, if you have not already done so, to encourage your home institution to do so in some form, and to help us with comments, criticisms and suggestions.

To stimulate your attention to the issue of digital archiving, I will, in the brief remarks that follow, attempt to cast the work of the Task Force in terms of the theme of the hour: How can we realize economic benefits through inter-institutional agreements? I assume that you all are most interested in economic and other benefits that could accrue in the nexus of activities which ARL has been defined under the general rubric of “scholarly communication.” I hope to develop here the argument that inter-institutional agreements regarding digital archiving will generate economy if and only if they are directed at each of at least three different dimensions of the system of scholarly communication:

  • First, we need to forge–or renew–agreements about the centrality of archiving in the process of scholarly communication.
  • Second, we need to affirm the utility of a systematic approach to the development of digital archiving.
  • Third, we need to set the mechanics of digital archiving in motion as a pervasive and trusted foundation for cultural discourse that includes scholarly communication.

The Ends of Archiving

Any discourse about economy, about the efficient management of scarce resources toward valued ends, is ultimately a discourse about values. Agreements about digital archiving that generate economic value must of course be able to answer the central question: Of what value or good is archiving and why should any scarce resources be pushed its way? This is a difficult question about purpose that may immediately open questions about and prompt defenses of particular forms of organization for archiving. In considering the answer, however, we must separate issues of purpose and function from those of organization.

I note in passing here that the Task Force report consistently equates long-term preservation with archiving, and identifies digital archives, rather than digital libraries, as the unit of activity for the long-term preservation of digital materials. I maintain this usage here. We all know that many libraries do frequently assume responsibility for the long-term preservation of the record of knowledge, but we have come to designate those that exercise such responsibility as a matter of course with special semantic markers as in the phrase “research library.” Moreover, although we now refer to “digital libraries,” discussion of such entities to date has made almost no reference to the long term value of the content nor to the mechanisms that might be employed to preserve such value over time. Rather than use the semantically marked phrase that Peter Graham (1995) has suggested, namely the “digital research library,” we have adopted the simpler designation of “digital archive.”

In answer to the question about the value of archiving, the Task Force report opens by invoking the principle that culture–any culture–depends on the quality of its record of knowledge. If that record is defective, as it will be if urgent attention is not given widely to the preservation of information in digital form, then the quality of the culture is also at risk (Task Force 1995: 1-2). This “culture at risk” argument for the preservation of digital information may be sufficient for the Task Force report. However, it does not provide a sufficiently strong and compelling case about the economic motives that might drive actors, like ARL member libraries, to invest aggressively in the preservation of digital information.

The stronger case of economic motive requires us to identify the principles underlying a knowledge economy and to demonstrate the place of archiving among them. The basic principle that enables us to regard the knowledge economy as a construct separate from other kinds of economy is the notion that the pursuit of knowledge is its own end. As I craft the stronger case of economic motive for your review, I turn for help to the work of the great Yale religious historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, who has produced one of the most eloquent recent defenses of the pursuit of knowledge as its own end, rather than for the utility it provides.

In The Idea of the University: A Reexamination, Pelikan (1992) critically examines the principle of knowledge as its own end and argues that it provides the rationale for education generally, and for the university in particular. Moreover, according to Pelikan, the principle of knowledge as its own end is merely one of a more comprehensive set of first principles that he calls the “intellectual virtues.” These virtues are essential for the pursuit of knowledge as its own end, and include principles of free inquiry and intellectual honesty, an obligation to convey the results of research, and an affirmation of the continuity of the intellectual life, upon which each generation builds and to which it contributes in turn (ibid: 32-56). Building on this set of first principles, Pelikan argues that the advancement of knowledge through research, the transmission of knowledge through teaching, the diffusion of knowledge through publishing, and the preservation of knowledge in scholarly collections are the four legs supporting any table made for the pursuit of knowledge; they particularly support the table that has come to be known as the research university (ibid: 16-17, 78-133)

Invoking the 19th century phrasing of John Henry Newman, Pelikan goes on to suggest that support for teaching, research and publication constitutes the “endowment of living [genius]” while efforts to preserve, or archive, knowledge by organizations like libraries, museums and archives, represent “the embalming of dead genius” (ibid: 110). Lest the connotations of these phrases give you pause, note that Pelikan is careful to distinguish embalming from entombing and his use of “embalming” is a colorful synonym for preservation and archiving which he takes to include all of the means necessary to make knowledge accessible to present and future generations. Moreover, he vigorously argues that “new knowledge has repeatedly come through confronting the old, in the process of which both old and new have been transformed” (ibid: 120). The two motives at work in what we today call the process of scholarly communication–embalming and endowment of genius, the looking backward in preservation and the looking forward in research, teaching and publication–thus are inextricably linked and flow from the principle that the pursuit of knowledge is its own end: preserved work from past generations is a necessary foundation for present and future work, which in turn defines the accessibility of the preserved work.

If we accept Pelikan’s argument that knowledge is its own end and that the broadly defined function of preserving or archiving the record of knowledge is essential to the scholarly communication process, then where is the archiving function in the calculus of the emerging knowledge economy? A story that we in ARL seem to be constructing about scholarly communication from the point of view of research libraries is that the service we provide of preserving knowledge is increasingly held hostage by a tangled web of external factors and agents. The story lends itself to apocalyptic tones. It focuses on an outmoded tenure process that is dependent on research and teaching in increasingly narrow fields of specialization and is coupled to a system of publication governed by an oligarchy of avaricious publishers intent on maintaining profit levels by controlling pricing and gutting the copyright regulations of provisions that might limit the compensation the publishers receive for the intellectual property they control. Given a set of problems framed in this way, the solutions we have invented include sweeping reform of the outmoded tenure process, take-back-the-night approaches to copyright and large-scale cuts in acquisitions budgets on university campuses, and the metamorphoses of scholars and/or libraries into entrepreneurial publishers eager to compete with the big guys. There are many useful themes and innovations embodied in these solutions. Most of them, however, stray far from the touchstone principle of institutional interest among research libraries in preserving knowledge for future generations of scholars.

Can we instead generate an hypothesis about the current state of scholarly communication that frames the problems directly–or at least more directly–in terms of preservation? I believe that we can. Let us imagine that the core problem in the scholarly communication process for at least a subset of scholarly disciplines is that the conventional published record simply does not adequately capture the intellectual action. The real action occurs elsewhere: in on-line databases, on-line exchanges of pre-prints, listservs and so on. Conventional publication in these disciplines adds little value to the work that has already been disseminated in other channels; rather it is a redundant process, undertaken to generate, in effect, a certified archival record of the work. Because the audience paying attention to the field has already seen and absorbed the work in on-line versions, the printed publication channel grows increasingly narrow consisting primarily of libraries who serve as the archival institutions. Because of the narrow market, costs and prices consequently rise on the supply side. On the demand side, libraries respond by cutting titles from their collections.

There is clearly little logic or economy in a process whereby scholars use printed publications to establish an archival record only to find that the institutions responsible for ensuring that the archive endures for future generations cannot afford to purchase the publications. Framed in this way, the problems in the scholarly communication system are archival problems, and a focus on tenure, the mechanics of print publication, electronic versions of print publications, and institutional retention of copyright is looking for solutions in all the wrong places–or at least not in some of the right places. A focused archival solution might aim instead to capture the real intellectual activity from the on-line places wherever it is now naturally occurring and to ensure that such activity is housed in certified, durable and readily accessible archives. Where there is redundancy between print and electronic form, as there increasingly is in disciplines such as mathematics and physics where pre-print markets flourish, might not such a solution save scholars, publishers, libraries and universities the trouble and expense of writing, publishing, collecting and financing in conventional print forms merely to establish an archival record? Given a digital archive system on which they can depend and which provides real, tangible economic benefits, scholars might not only be moved to change the way that they conduct scholarship but also the mechanisms, such as tenure review, by which they measure the quality of that work.

If all these hypotheses are plausible then do we not also need to say bluntly that our own unwillingness or inability as archival institutions to provide a trustworthy archival record of substantially changed and changing intellectual activity is itself a critical barrier to the rehabilitation and renewal of a viable (read: affordable) system of scholarly communication? The process of coming to terms with each other, with our academic colleagues and with publishers about the investment we must make in the system of scholarly communication and the savings that we must extract from that system is essentially a coming to terms about the centrality of archiving–the embalming of dead genius–in the pursuit of knowledge. But these understandings and agreements cannot be achieved immediately. And this brings me to my second point: that we need to affirm the utility of a systematic approach to the development of digital archiving.

Systematic Approach

As we contemplate the archiving of digital information, we have to understand that we are not seeking to fine tune some technical variables of a system that is already long in place. While the goals are ultimately the same, we are not placing brittle books under a microfilm camera in a well-defined process. Instead, we are faced with what the Task Force report calls “a grander problem of organizing ourselves over time and as a society to maneuver effectively in a digital landscape” (Task Force 1995: 4) The effort to meet the cultural and economic imperatives of digital preservation requires us to build, almost from scratch, a system of infrastructure for moving the record of knowledge naturally and confidently into the future. The systematic approach, on which I believe we need to agree in order to build this infrastructure, has at least two dimensions: the elements of the system and the manner in which we interact to deploy those elements and construct the system and subsystems for digital archiving.

The various elements of a system for archiving digital information–the kinds of information, the stakeholders and the operational functions–are discussed at length in the Task Force report. The discussion there is not perfect, nor have we identified all the factors that one might judge relevant. We would welcome your assessment of our judgments. However, it is perhaps less important that we have all the factors perfectly in hand than that we adopt a systematic process to ensure that over time we formulate and then confirm or disconfirm hypotheses about the interrelation of those elements and, in so doing, that we measurably improve our archival capabilities for digital information.

I also want to emphasize the manner in which we interact to deploy these elements and to construct the system and subsystems for digital archiving. We must, on the one hand, make a commitment to a complex iteration and reiteration of exploration, development and solution as the relevant factors and their interrelationships emerge and become clearer and more tractable. On the other hand, the manner of our interaction in a systematic approach to digital archiving must result in a complex division of labor. And this brings me to my third and final point: that our agreements to divide the labor as formal partners, as informal allies, even as competitors must substantially set in motion soon and substantially the mechanics of digital archives as a pervasive and trusted foundation for cultural discourse that includes scholarly communication.

Mechanics of Digital Archives

Most of the Task Force recommendations for setting the mechanics in motion invite substantial inter-institutional action. I draw your attention to three of these recommendations. They each illustrate a different form of interaction and they each yield a different kind of economic benefit.

First, the Task Force calls for certified digital archives. In itself, certification yields no direct economic benefit. Yet the process of certification is meant to create an overall climate of value and of trust about the prospects of preserving digital information. Repositories claiming to be digital archives in a changing and uncertain environment must be able to prove that they are who they say they are, and that they can deliver on the preservation promise. The call for individuals and organizations to agree to collaborate in the design and implementation of standards, criteria and mechanisms for certification, and for prospective digital archives to submit to the certification process, is a summons for the wider community to affirm the values–at least in the abstract–of digital preservation and ultimately of the pursuit of knowledge as its own end.

The Task Force also emphasizes the need for a fail-safe mechanism in digital archives. Such a mechanism will enable a certified archival repository to exercise an aggressive rescue function to save digital information that it judges to be culturally significant and which is endangered in its current repository. We may not know enough about the use of digital information to reach consensus about what fair use of it is, but we do know that one of the greatest dangers to its long life is the ease with which it can be abandoned or destroyed. If concerted action is needed in the intellectual property arena to protect the rights necessary to support teaching and research, then let us focus at least some of that action on the development of the legal framework needed to support a fail-safe mechanism for digital archives. The economic benefit of such action is, of course, not in the dollars it directly generates or saves, but in the environment it creates for achival institutions to do their job and to realize the value of preserved work for future generations.

Finally, I call attention to the Task Force recommendation for a cooperative venture to preserve the documents, discourse, software products and other digital information objects that serve to record the early digital age. Because the objects in this focal area are at such risk of loss, the project could provide a useful means of exploring the actual operation of archival fail-safe mechanisms. Moreover, conceived as a cooperative venture among multiple participating archives, the project would provide a necessary testbed for developing an on-line system of linked but distributed archives. One of the biggest unknowns in the digital environment is the full impact of distributed computing over electronic networks. However, as the Task Force report suggests in the section on costs and finances, and as Dr. Bowen of the Mellon Foundation has asserted earlier in his discussion of the JSTOR project, one of the greatest hopes for reducing costs in the scholarly communication process is the prospect of achieving economies of scale in the storage and distribution of electronic information over electronic networks. We need to verify these expectations of economic benefit in actual experience with a range of materials.

Conclusion

I conclude by observing that the notions of archives and archiving today have much currency and import, even outside the context in which we have been discussing them here. Just a week ago on October 8th in the New York Times Magazine, William Safire devoted his “On Language” column to the topic of kids’ slang. He advised that “if you want to stay on the generational offensive, when your offspring use the clichéd gimme a break, you can top that expression of sympathetic disbelief with jump back and the ever-popular riposte whatever.” However, he noted that some expressions, such as I’m outta here or I’m history, are now very much dated. I’m history, Safire quotes a forthcoming study of slang, is “a parting phrase modeled on an underworld expression referring to death,” and it has both inspired and been replaced by the more trendy expression, I’m archives (Safire 1995: 30).

With regard to the future of digital information in the scholarly communications process, I have no doubt that the expression I’m archives will apply truthfully to all the institutions represented in this room. The choice before us, both individually and collectively, is to decide in what sense it will apply.

References

Graham, Peter. 1995, “Requirements for the Digital Research Library.” College and Research Libraries 56(4): 331-339.

Kagan, Robert. 1994, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pelikan, Jarislov. 1992, The Idea of the University: A Reexamination. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Safire, William. 1995, “Kiduage.” The New York Times Magazine. October 8, 1995: 28, 30.

Task Force on the Archiving of Digital Information. 1995, Preserving Digital Information. Draft Report, Version 1.0. Washington, D.C: Commission on Preservation and Access and Mountain View, CA: The Research Libraries Group, August 23, 1995.


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.

Deanna B. Marcum–President
Maxine K. Sitts–Program Officer, Editor