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Preservation Week Roundup

Preservation

All last week we participated in Preservation Week, an initiative of ALCTS to promote the role of libraries in preserving personal and public collections and treasures.

We asked some of our authors 3 preservation questions and published the answers throughout the week. We also republished a classic blogpost by Michele Cloonan on human rights, cultural genocide and the persistence of preservation.

The 3 preservation questions that we asked were;

1. Why is preservation awareness so important?

2. What are some ways that libraries and archives can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

3. Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats are prone to obsolescence. What are some current or proposed digital collection initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

We have collected all our posts from Preservation Week in one handy list below:

3 Preservation Questions: Helen Forde and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis (co- authors of Preserving our Heritage)

3 Preservation Questions: Walker Sampson (co-author of The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital)

3 Preservation Questions: Janet Anderson and David Anderson (co-editors of Preserving Complex Digital Objects)

3 Preservation Questions: Michele Cloonan (editor of Preserving our Heritage)

The Persistence of Preservation by Michele Cloonan.

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The Persistence of Preservation

To finish up Preservation Week we’ve got a re-post of an article that Michele Cloonan wrote for CILIP in 2016 about the destruction of cultural heritage.

800px-Temple_of_Baal-Shamin,_Palmyra

The title of a recent book by Alicia Ely Yamin, Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), caught my eye. The book focuses on human-rights-based approaches to health and development. “The ultimate concern” of the book, to quote from the publisher’s blurb, “is to promote movement from analysis to action, so that we can begin to use human rights frameworks to effect meaningful social change in global health, and beyond.” Could the phrase “preservation of cultural heritage” be substituted in the title of a hypothetically titled parallel book?

Most of us don’t equate preservation with human rights

henry-dunant-francis-lieber

While most of us don’t equate preservation with human rights, the relationship has been touched on at least as early as the nineteenth century—although the destruction of cultural heritage has taken place for as long as there has been heritage. In the nineteenth century the concept of human rights was considered in the context of war. Swiss businessman and reformer Henri Dunant was an organiser of the First Geneva Conference for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded Armies in the Field (1863-64) and a founder of the Red Cross (see his Memory of Solferino [Geneva, Switzerland: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1986]).

At just about the same time as these activities were taking place in Europe, Francis Lieber, a German jurist who settled in the United States, prepared for the Union Army General Orders No. 100: Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field, better known as the Lieber Code; it established rules for the humane treatment of civilians in areas of conflict and forbade the execution of prisoners of war. Further it sought the protection of works of art, scientific collections, and hospitals in war-torn areas. These ideas were further developed in the Hague Peace Conferences that were held from 1899-1907 and in the later Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954 and the 1999 Second Protocol). Excerpts of these codes, conventions, and protocols are included in chapter 9 of my Preserving Our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital Age (London: Facet, 2015).

Why can’t we protect cultural heritage?

Giant standing Buddhas of Bamiyan still cast shadows

Since the publication of my book—and as armed conflicts in the Middle East have escalated, and countless works of heritage continue to be destroyed—I have found myself continuing to think about the relationship between human rights and preservation. Why can’t we protect cultural heritage? It is not that international efforts haven’t been made; International Humanitarian Law seeks to balance humanitarian concerns with military necessity. Yet over and over again the world watches as cultural heritage is destroyed—often in dramatic and defiant ways. Most of the perpetrators will never be charged, let alone tried.

This destruction is sometimes described as cultural genocide. The term genocide was coined by jurist and human rights advocate Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959). It is based on the Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin caedere (killing). (See his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, 2nd ed. [Clark, NJ: The Lawbook Exchange, 2008, pp. 79-95.) He meant for genocide to correspond to such words as homicide, infanticide, fratricide, and so on. In Axis Rule Lemkin identified eight components of genocide, which he reduced to three when he was campaigning for a Genocide Convention: physical, biological, and cultural.

Significantly, for Lemkin the term referred to human massacre as well as the destruction of a people’s art and culture. In other words, genocide represented crimes against humans as well as humanity. Lemkin was determined that genocide be adopted by the United Nations as the word to describe these crimes. And it was, in The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). However, for reasons that I explain in my forthcoming book, Monumental Preservation, the term was defined more narrowly to refer only to mass killings and not the often concomitant crime of destroying the culture of the vanquished people. Since the framing of that U.N. document, and after Lemkin’s death, the term cultural genocide was coined to refer to the destruction of cultural heritage.

Cultural genocide is not yet recognised in international law

Cultural genocide per se is not yet recognised in international law. Yet that is beginning to change as international courts are recognizing that physical and biological attacks are often carried out in concert with the destruction of religious and/or cultural property (see Shamiran Mako, “Cultural Genocide and Key International Instruments: Framing the Indigenous Experience,” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 19 [2012]: 175-94, about post WWII efforts to acknowledge the rights of indigenous peoples). It is probably only a matter of time before a case involving cultural genocide is successfully tried.

However, international laws will never stop the seemingly ongoing destruction of heritage sites. Nor will “soft power,” the attempt by organisations such as UNESCO “to create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures, and peoples, based on respect for commonly shared values” (see the UNESCO website). And what if there are not always shared values? UNESCO has been criticised for promoting Western—even European—notions of heritage in the non-western world (e.g., Rodney Harrison, Heritage:Critical Approaches [London: Routledge, 2013]).

What if the group that sets out to destroy cultural heritage creates its own grand narrative about the importance of that destruction? For example, if one group seeks to impose its identity on another by destroying the culture of the vanquished group? Has UNESCO framed the notion of universally shared heritage in the most effective way? Every new country, era, civilization is the accretion of everything tangible and intangible that has come before. It will almost never be possible to completely vanquish that which has come before us.

Perhaps we can model preservation itself in a more nuanced way. Below are some of the motivations and behaviors associated with preservation, as well as some emerging approaches to preservation.

Motivations

  • Legal
  • Corporate (profit motive, e.g. Facebook, Inc.)
  • Corporate (legacy/history/pride/archives/records/memory)
  • Patriotic
  • Religious
  • Propagandistic
  • Governmental
  • Social [as distinct from cultural]
  • Personal (preserving family papers, mementos)
  • Administrative (legal or political mandate)
  • Deterministic (preservation as destiny)
  • Matriarchal/Patriarchal
  • Stewardship
  • Scholarly/academic
  • Save what we can profit most by
  • [Or destroy, for almost all of the above reasons]

Behaviours

  • Imperialist (we came, we saw, we conquered, we appropriated/expropriated cultural heritage objects)
  • Hording or clean-sweep approach: save everything you can
  • Last-ditch effort: save anything you can (war-time approach, or in historic preservation, wrecking-ball approach)
  • Save last copies
  • People’s choice: save the best (“doxa” or popular opinion)
  • Judgmental: save according to carefully delineated criteria
  • Elitist: we save what should be saved & for whom it should be saved
  • Principle of Least Effort : we won’t bother with it until we have to. (Or, we will save only that which has already deteriorated.)
  • Benign neglect (perhaps less intentional than the Principle of Least Effort)
  • Administrative: save what must be saved
  • Pragmatic: save at a measured rate
  • Stewardship: we have a responsibility to save
  • Save: but we continue to use it—and museums must understand that
  • Don’t save: it has fulfilled its earthly purpose
  • Don’t save: its survival is anathema to our beliefs
  • Don’t save: we have a right to destroy it

Emerging

  • Social networking: positive and negative (records destruction and promotes propaganda)
  • Personal Information Management (PIM)
  • Attempt to create true digital preservation
  • Reformatting into the future best forms of “preservation” for specific kind of data audiences
  • Enhanced tools for documentation
  • New tools for community engagement and outreach
  • [For example, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear 3/11/11 disaster, in which citizens
  • recovered thousands of photographs on land and in the water, and put them up on the web. In some instances families and their photos have been reunited.] These are some of the ways in which I have tried to situate preservation on the global stage. I welcome your feedback about other ways in which we can think about the role of preservation in our lives.

These are some of the ways in which I have tried to situate preservation on the global stage. I welcome your feedback about other ways in which we can think about the role of preservation in our lives.

Michele Valerie Cloonan is Dean Emerita and Professor at the Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College.9781856049467

You can find out more about Michele’s book, Preserving our Heritage, here.

Follow Preservation Week on Twitter using the hashtag  and look out for our other author interviews that we will be releasing throughout the week.

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References

Image sources:

henry-dunant-francis-lieber.jpg” by CILIP is used under CC BY-SA 2.0. It is a derivative of the following works:

Giant standing Buddhas of Bamiyan still cast shadows [Image 2 of 8]” by DVIDSHUB, used under CC BY 2.0 / original cropped and resized

3 Preservation Questions: Michele Cloonan

In the last of our author interviews for Preservation Week, today we’ve got Michele Cloonan, editor of Preserving our Heritage.

Cloonan

1. In your view, why is preservation awareness so important?

I am in the UK right now. Just yesterday I toured a historic site that included treasures from its rich archives. The archivist showed us autographs and sketches by well known artists. Some of the bindings were in poor shape, but the inks and papers were in very good condition. After we all admired the wonderful items, the archivist said, “You’ll be glad to know that we have just digitized everything so you will have easy access to the materials. We are currently looking into off-site storage facilities for the originals.” One of the people on the tour, with real pain in her voice, asked “does that mean that we will never be able to see the originals again?” Everyone else in the group nodded in accord. A discussion ensued, and the archivist assured us that we could see the originals if we made special requests, though depending on where the collections will be stored, it might take a while to retrieve them.

It was enlightening to be in the role of the general public, and I didn’t offer any perspectives; I just listened. The lesson that I took away is that we aren’t doing a very good job of explaining to the public what the role of digitization is in a preservation program. The archivist inadvertently made it sound as though the digitized records would replace the originals. The public expects us to effectively steward our collections, which belong to us collectively.

We need to get a positive message out there: digitization gives the user 24/7 access, but this kind of access doesn’t diminish the importance of–and access to–the original.

2. What are some ways that libraries and archives can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

How about a Preservation Roadshow, or Preservation Library Show? Or regular workshops? In public libraries we could hold sessions in which we invite people to bring in items in need of repair, or perhaps re-formatting. I remember a few years ago Parade Magazine advised people to re-format their old home movies and throw away the originals. Now, people are advised to save everything “in the cloud.” Lots of people think that they are preserving their photos on Facebook, or on their phones. They don’t realize how vulnerable their digital collections are.

It was a lot easier to explain deterioration to people in the “brittle book era.” The landscape is far more complex now. We need to prepare kits or educational packages for the public. We should do this at the national level, too. LC, the British Library, and some other institutions have information on their websites, but there needs to be even more out there. We need an effective update to Slow Fires which didn’t offer advice. Instead, it painted a rather gloomy picture.

3. Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats are prone to obsolescence. What are some current or proposed digital collection initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

Over the past twenty years there have been a number of magnificent projects: American Memory at the Library of Congress, Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America. The challenge is for projects to develop funding strategies that will assure that programs are sustainable.

There is also the need for major institutions to do the appropriate strategic planning for digital preservation. For example, the British Library’s 2020 plan to preserve their digital collections in a trusted digital repository is a positive initiative.

Michele Valerie Cloonan is Dean Emerita and Professor at the Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College.9781856049467

You can find out more about Michele’s book, Preserving our Heritage, here.

Follow Preservation Week on Twitter using the hashtag  and look out for our other author interviews that we will be releasing throughout the week.

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3 Preservation Questions: Janet Anderson and David Anderson

As Preservation Week continues, today we’ve got an interview with Janet Anderson and David Anderson, co-editors of Preserving Complex Digital Objects.

POCOS

1. In your view, why is preservation awareness so important?

So many institutions today are pushing for a paperless society: for example, banks frequently suggest getting online statements in order to save trees, paper and postage. This is all very well if everyone is confident that ALL the necessary digital records are kept safely, and will be readable in the future. This is a considerable challenge, however, and if you consider the effort required in keeping digital art, computer games, and the 3D models that you might see in a museum, then it just gets harder. However, libraries, archives and museums across Europe have been working concertedly over the last two decades to tackle these issues, so help is at hand. For the rest of us, it is vital that people in all walks of life become aware of the fragility and difficulties of keeping hold of their material, and realise that whilst our digital lives bring many benefits in terms of searching and accessing material, this does come with a price concerning the maintenance of the data and their platforms. Companies need to keep their digital records, individuals will want to safeguard their personal digital memories etc.

2. What are some ways that libraries and archives can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

My own experience is of working with national libraries, archives and museums to help develop fundamental solutions to preservation problems. I am aware that these national bodies then communicate with regional, local and commercial bodies through their normal channels to raise awareness about the importance of preservation. The national bodies are also good at reaching individuals through their excellent websites (the British Library, the National Archives with their new digital strategy which mentions the E-ARK project), and the Parliamentary Archives are all excellent at communicating all things digital). Regional and local libraries/archives can then reach out to their immediate communities to pass on this knowledge. There are also dedicated organisations such as the Digital Preservation Coalition who are reaching out to many communities, including the banking sector, mentioned above in 1.

3. Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats are prone to obsolescence. What are some current or proposed digital collection initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

The British Library Digital Scholarship area has a programme “Innovate with British Library collections and data”. The web page shows a collection of initiatives that give me hope for the future: help with research, help with digitisation, support with collections, staff training, the THOR project which focuses on persistent identifiers – so that we can find digital objects in the future (important for collections and also the Internet of Things). Also the E-ARK project mentioned above which took the first big step in addressing the need for common standards and systems for archiving digital records.

Janet Anderson (formerly Delve) is Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Brighton, a field she has been researching for the last 20 years, developing fundamentally new methods/technologies to keep alive our digital cultural heritage: digital art, computer games or 3D models of archaeological sites.

David Anderson leads the interdisciplinary Future Proof Computing9781856049580 Group at the University of Brighton and is Project Quality Manager for the E-Ark project, a multinational big data research project that aims to improve the methods and technologies of digital archiving, in order to achieve consistency on a Europe-wide scale.

More details about Janet and David’s co-edited book, Preserving Complex Digital Objects, can be found here.

Follow Preservation Week on Twitter using the hashtag  and look out for our other author interviews that we will be releasing throughout the week.

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