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I learn with great satisfaction that you are about committing to the press the valuable historical and State papers you have been so long collecting. Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The last cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains; not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident (Jefferson [1791] 1984).

Thomas Jefferson, often credited with having foreseen the problems his compatriots would face and devising solutions to them, seems in this letter to be typically prophetic in his vision. Is he not describing “preservation through proliferation”-the key preservation strategy that libraries adopted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and that has resulted in the great abundance of resources in libraries? Is not “multiplication of copies,” as Jefferson puts it, the way that films and music and photographs have spread through our culture, with demand for preservation following? Is not copying them, be it by photocopying or scanning, and placing them beyond the reach of accident a recipe for avoiding the “daily havoc on the originals”? And, as we look ahead, will these remain the primary strategies for ensuring future access to present-day originals, or should we anticipate major changes in the nature of research, teaching, and preservation-and-access technologies that will render these strategies obsolete?

Core principles of artifactual value do not change with genre-map versus manuscript versus musical performance. The value of an artifact, however, is profoundly affected by the medium on which the information is fixed. The definition of artifact as a unique item of historical importance worked as long as there was a fair degree of consensus regarding the nature of the artifact. New recording techniques for sound and image, as well as magnetic and electronic reproduction, have put enormous pressure on these heretofore-useful assumptions. This is true even in the case of traditional print/paper artifacts, as has been seen.

Artifacts are complex objects-materially, structurally, temporally, and perceptually. Cultural forces shape this complexity in an ongoing dialectic that is subject to continual revision and thus is never definitive. The status of any given artifact, like that of any cultural construction, is vulnerable for several reasons. In a museum or a library that has limited economic resources for core mission work, it must compete to maintain a claim on institutional resources. It must also compete for intellectual resources-for the attention of the public, of scholars, and of others who, by their attention or lack thereof, valorize its status. This intellectual competition is every bit as parlous as is the economic one. Each generation must engage the issue on its own terms and do so actively if preservation is to be effective.

Today, thanks to the very technologies that highlight, if not create, the problems we are facing, we can coordinate efforts to document and preserve in ways hitherto impossible. We should be able to track more clearly what others are doing in identifying what must be saved and what need not. We should be able to coordinate retention of best surviving copies and thereby avoid duplicating preservation efforts. We should be able to know with certainty what “last, best” copies of an artifact exist and where they exist, and therefore to assign responsibility for stewardship of such items.

This work is traditionally seen as the purview of librarians and archivists; however, preservation strategies at the local and national levels have been and will continue to be dependent for their success on the engagement of all members of the research community, including scholars and academic officers. Scholars may not see preservation of research collections as their responsibility, but until they do, there is a risk that many valuable research sources will not be preserved. Faculty can work with local librarians to ensure that scholars’ research needs are clearly articulated and are taken into consideration when budgets are planned. Faculty can be influential in persuading presidents and provosts to devote appropriate levels of resources to locally held research collections. Above all, they can see that part of their role as scholars is to be stewards of collections as shared resources across the country. This means engaging at the national as well as local level to ensure that scarce but valuable resources are being preserved at some locations. They can engage their national roles as stewards through their scholarly societies, which act as publishers and guardians of the scholarly record. They can, through national organizations, articulate the value of the intellectual heritage that is at risk and lobby for increased funding to support preservation.

5.1 Principles of Good Stewardship

Good stewardship begins with scholars and librarians taking responsibility for the preservation of artifacts in the following ways:

  • Scholars can work with librarians in identifying materials to preserve, focusing first on those resources that are most endangered.
  • Scholars can identify and define categories of resources and work with librarians to locate the finest and best-preserved specimens.
  • Scholars and librarians can collaborate to develop realistic policies for retention and disposition.
  • Librarians can work together to develop responsibilities for collections of last resort, including aggregating collections into regional repositories.
  • Librarians can work together to refine existing bibliographic and collection records to make it possible for researchers to locate these preserved artifacts.
  • Scholars and librarians can develop and nurture local, regional, and national collaborations that are sustainable and that balance the needs of present and future users.

5.2 Best Practices for Preservation of the Artifact

At the technical level, good stewardship rests on the following principles and practices:

  • preventive care
  • global treatment of collections, when available, for cost-effectiveness
  • use of item-level treatment for items of special value and vulnerability
  • special handling and security protocols
  • surrogacy to prevent damage and extend access
  • optimal storage facilities
  • networks of repositories and remote storage facilities
  • careful documentation of problems
  • constant assessment of progress in key programs and sharing of data about them
  • documentation of preservation treatments (e.g., deacidification, reformatting) on bibliographical records

5.3 Strategies for Specific Formats

As part of the network of libraries responsible for preserving and making accessible artifactual collections, individual libraries can play a critical role in a national preservation strategy by doing the following:

Print (pp. 19-30)

  • identifying which genres and what types of printed materials need to be preserved
  • using the most appropriate and cost-effective means (e.g., deacidification, reformatting, rebinding, repair) to ensure long-term access
  • giving priority to the preservation of materials uniquely held at local institutions or generally rare

Audiovisual (pp. 30-41)

  • assessing collection needs to set priorities for reformatting and other treatments
  • stabilizing materials on paper (e.g., engravings, posters, and photographs on acid paper)
  • reformatting materials onto stable media before information is lost
  • saving original source materials (e.g., negatives)
  • documenting preservation treatments on common databases and coordinating preservation treatments to avoid duplication

Digital (pp. 41-54)

  • developing sound digitization selection criteria
  • ensuring preservation treatment of underlying source materials
  • creating registries of digitized collections
  • defining what types of digital objects (e.g., electronic journals, Web sites) should be preserved and by whom
  • lowering barriers to fair use of digital information
  • creating digital resources and retrieval systems in nonproprietary systems
  • developing best practices for migration
  • exploring the possibilities of emulation

5.4 Recommendations

At the local and national levels, there are several actions that members of the research community can take to ensure greater access to original research materials in the future and to use available resources most effectively. Such actions include the following:

  • Advocate for the development of regional repositories of artifactual collections that reduce duplication of effort, create economies of scale, and ensure that the greatest number of unique or scarce priority items are preserved and made accessible to researchers. Such repositories might be organized along chronological lines, with institutions specializing in certain periods; along disciplinary or linguistic lines; or along geographical (i.e., physical location) lines for consortial use.
  • Advocate for the creation of a repository of record for American imprints that operates at the national level to ensure that at least one copy of materials deposited for copyright will endure.
  • Create standardized descriptive practices that make information about resources readily accessible through searchable databases. This is especially critical for academic fields that lack best practices and controlled vocabularies in documentation and retrieval.
  • Raise awareness of the importance of preservation with the expectation that foundations, federal agencies, and others will increase their financial commitment to it.
  • Increase the funds devoted to preservation by gaining a larger commitment from host institutions, raising endowment funds, and securing grants from government agencies and foundations.
  • Invest resources in the development of more effective and economical preservation processes.

5.5 Areas for Further Research

The research agenda that has emerged from this investigation into the role of the artifact in library collections is considerable for each of the three types of recording media discussed: print, analog audiovisual, and digital. The most pressing areas, largely nontechnical, include determining what materials are held in libraries and archives, identifying how researchers use source materials, and encouraging the use of primary sources and artifactual collections in research and teaching. In particular, there is a need to

  • develop and apply methodologies to track the growing online use of large digitized collections
  • gather and study data on the behavior of researchers online so that the tool kit developed for researchers’ use will meet their needs
  • gather data on the state of artifacts in nonacademic libraries and repositories
  • research and develop curricular needs for the use of original sources
  • increase media longevity studies and extend them to all new media, including digital

The task force also recommends that a similar investigation be undertaken into the state of preservation among rare and special collections. While excluded from consideration in this study, these collections are as vulnerable to unintended loss and destruction as are the artifactual and digital collections that have been the subject of this report.

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