Re-Tooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age:
Missions, Collections, Staffing

California Academic & Research Libraries
Third Annual Conference


Session H: Preservation in the Digital Age: Whether To, What To, How To

Moderator: Jack Kessler, Consultant, AKCO Inc.

The session addressed four themes concerning the preservation issue, heeding Umberto Eco's general warning: "...what authority will decide?... Plato and Dante have known their periods of disgrace...."

Patricia McClung described the variety of ongoing projects, acknowledging that there is a paradigm shift underway, but observing that we seem to be, "stuck in an endless purgatory between our analog past and digital future". The immediate problem, she said, is the inadequacy of changing hardware and software. Her concern is that, as this problem is addressed, some understanding of the importance of preservation issues not be lost in the discussion: there must be recognition of the need for balancing preservation and access. She challenged the other speakers, contending that, "long - term preservation of information in digital form is not yet possible".

Barclay Ogden countered by observing that we already do digital preservation: "look at any online catalog", he said. The question is whether we are doing it well. He said that digital technology is just another medium, for which there are analogs in previous media and their preservation efforts. There are two ways to think about digital preservation, he believes:

  1. preservation via conversion to digital media, and,
  2. the preservation of natively - digital information objects.

Problems in the latter derive from three characteristics discussed in the recent Garrett - Waters report: a) accumulation, b) linkages, and, c) interactivity -- all three hard to analyze and accommodate using traditional techniques, but analogs for all three may be found, he contended. He suggested old houses which change over time, Native American spiritual objects, and dance, all as examples of difficult multimedia which have preceded digital. The UC Berkeley Library projects concern four emphases: 1) navigation, 2) information capture, 3) workflow and production systems, and, 4) content and use studies -- there is a danger, he said, in "fast - paper projects", which "merely re - create traditional document types and services in digital form", but first steps must be taken somewhere.

Helene Whitson described the problems of preserving modern media. Her video archives are "equipment - dependent", she said: not only do media deteriorate, but so do the machines for viewing them, and the computer programs for organizing them, and there is little money available for preservation. Society has not yet realized the importance of non - print media as an archival record, she feels, and there is grave danger of losing that record now.

Geoffrey Nunberg summarized by observing that libraries still are the testbed for the Digital Library. Eco's question is timely, he said: "where does the archive begin?" is a question of great importance -- what to preserve and how to preserve it. "Intelligence must be distinguished from information", he observed: tools must be developed to assist in this. Both preservation and access are issues which must be better - defined for the digital age.

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