Category: Archives

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.

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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

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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

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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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3 Preservation Questions: Walker Sampson

Next up in our series of author interviews for Preservation Week, we have Walker Sampson, co-author of the brand new book, The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content.

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cc image ‘Preservation Hall Bass Drum’ by Flickr user Infrogmation of New Orleans https://www.flickr.com/photos/infrogmation/

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

I think there’s an assumption for many that we know about everything we’ll ever know about the past, both near and distant. Preservation, both incidental and purposeful, is a fundamental part of how our past is discovered anew and rewritten.

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

Often, communities will be interested in telling their story – furnishing the evidence and documents needed to recount a narrative – and I think that is vital. However, there may be groups and communities that aren’t confident on their story yet, or fear they need to have a “good” story to tell first. For these groups, I would encourage them to preserve their materials in spite of uncertainty. Someone else may come along to tell your story, and it will be better told with more preserved materials, not less.

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?

One project I’m really excited to see progress is bwFLA (Baden-Württemberg Functional Long-Term Archiving and Access), a project to develop an open framework for emulating software online. This would allow users to access vintage software, and the documents created from them, in their original environments – directly from a browser. Preservation of “look and feel” has arguably been relegated to the most valued of digital objects because of cumbersome logistics, and this project really promises to deliver contextual authenticity to many more users, for many more digital objects.

Walker Sampson is the Digital Archivist at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries.9781783301959 He earned his MS in Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin before beginning work at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2011.

Find out more about Walker’s book (co-authored with Heather Ryan), The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content 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: Helen Forde and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis

Today sees the start of Preservation Week, a week-long event promoting the role of libraries in preserving personal and public collections and treasures.

We have been asking some of our authors three preservation questions and will be publishing their answers throughout the week.  First up we have Helen Forde and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis, authors of the second edition of Preserving Archives.

Archvies

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

The preservation of material culture is crucial for society, for an appreciation of the past and for building blocks for the future. Archival preservation is a massively important part of this, given the crucial role which archives play in holding organisations and individuals to account, in documenting the past and ensuring the survival of corporate memory. Archives provide the structure of the past and without written evidence societies flourish only in the present. Historical examples demonstrate that however powerful a civilization may be, failure to preserve documentary culture eventually results in it being largely forgotten.

Ensuring that communities, government, businesses and individuals are all aware of the essential role of archives is a message that all those involved in the creation and care of written material need to spread widely. Too often, in the current throw-away or careless attitude of society, vital documentary evidence has been lost; this happens in government, in commercial organisations, in legal proceedings and in everyday life.

The message which needs to be heard is not that everything should be kept but that the selection of material to be preserved should be carried out logically and consistently to ensure that the full story can be told. Awareness of the material means of then preserving it for current and future use should ideally form part of the initial creation process. The selection of suitable carriers for information – stable inks, quality paper, stable digital platforms – is an essential part of the process of spreading the message about preservation and its importance throughout all societies.

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

Good practice is often the result of emulation; if libraries, archives, museums, governments and organisations demonstrate their awareness of the importance of archival preservation, others are more likely to follow suit. An understanding of the consequences of neglect and decay can be demonstrated with illustrations of the weakness of poor quality paper, of the solubility of poor quality writing and printing inks and the inherent dangers of not migrating digital information on to stable platforms.

Conservators are good ambassadors for preservation, given that their skills are easily demonstrated and are always appreciated by the public. Any tour of a library, archive or museum can be guaranteed to come to a full stop in a conservation studio where the techniques, for both intervention and prevention, attract attention and lead to discussion. Planning open days and behind the scenes tours are a good way of demonstrating preservation in action, with conservation reserved for specialists.

Discussion and demonstration sessions held in-house with communities which struggle with the concept of preservation can be useful and demonstrate that it is good practice, rather than expensive additional activity, which contribute to the survival of archival material. Simple packaging with acid free paper or board, strategies for eliminating pests, planning against disasters and training volunteers to handle materials carefully are all possible within many communities and organisations without the expense of intervention techniques by conservators.

In addition, both librarians and archivists, in line with conservators, need to ensure that the professional organisations that represent them are also underlining the importance of preservation in enabling access. Providing information about the risks to materials, and outlining guidance to enable those with important collections to effectively respond to these risks, is also a vital way in which a wider impact can be achieved.

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 challenge of preserving the digital archive is now impacting on all governments, organisations and individuals. The security of information from access and tampering from other agencies is now critical, and so it is vital that appropriate and co-ordinated strategies to address the risks are in place. All citizens understand the importance of data, and especially personal information, and so new legislation, like the General Data Protection Regulation, is integral in defining our digital preservation needs.

Alongside this, organisations are responding to the further challenges of technical obsolescence by addressing the needs of the wider community via open source software and working more closely with the hardware and software providers. This is also reflected in the growth of digital specialists in the archive and library worlds, initially prompted by the needs of Freedom of Information, but now building pragmatic roles within organisations.

It seems that finally the world of archives and libraries is acknowledging that it is not possible, or morally and economically sustainable, to digitise all collections. This has resulted in some interesting developments in preservation policy and strategy, but also acknowledges that prioritisation is the key. This may be because of condition, sensitivity or just enabling access to information – the key role of preservation.

Helen Forde is a professional archivist who has worked in local authority, private and 9781856048231national archives. Until 2001 she was Head of Preservation Services at the UK national Archives, where she had previously been in charge of both the library and the Museum. She has taught preservation management and worked as an independent consultant on archives.

Jonathan Rhys-Lewis is preservation and collections management consultant with over 25 years experience within local government and as an independent consultant. He trains, lectures and publishes on preservation and preservation management.

More details about Helen and Jonathan’s book, Preserving Archives, 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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Entry-level guidance for managing born-digital content

Facet Publishing have announced the release of Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson’s The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content.

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Libraries and archives of all sizes are collecting and managing an increasing proportion of digital content. Within this body of digital content is a growing pool of ‘born-digital’ content: content that has been created and has often existed solely in digital form. The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content explains step by step processes for developing and implementing born-digital content workflows in library and archive settings and includes a range of case studies collected from small, medium and large institutions internationally.

Authors Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson said,

Our book is for librarians and archivists who have found themselves managing or are planning to manage born-digital content and who may feel somewhat unsure of their ability to take on a task that by all appearances demands a high level of technological expertise

The book covers the basics of digital information; selection, acquisition, accessioning and ingest; description, preservation and access; methods for designing and implementing workflows for born-digital collection processing; and strategies and philosophies to move forward as technologies change.

Trevor Owens, Head of Digital Content Management at the Library of Congress said,

Librarians, archivists and museum professionals need to collectively move away from thinking about digital, and in particular born-digital, as being niche topics for specialists. If our institutions are to meet the mounting challenges of serving the cultural memory functions of an increasingly digital-first society the institutions themselves need to transition to become digital-first themselves. We can’t just keep hiring a handful of people with the word ‘digital’ in their job titles. You don’t go to a digital doctor to get someone who uses computing as part of their medical practice, and we can’t expect that the digital archivists are the ones who will be the people who do digital things in archives. The things this book covers are things that all cultural heritage professionals need to get up to speed on.

Heather Ryan is the Director of Special Collections, Archives & Preservation and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. She earned her PhD in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Walker Sampson is the Digital Archivist at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. He earned his MS in Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin before beginning work at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2011.

The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship wins Art Libraries Society Award

Facet Publishing is pleased to announce that The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship has won the ARLIS/NA Worldwide Books Award for Publications.

Copy of Hamilton & Saunderson

The second edition of The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship was awarded the Worldwide Books Award for Publications at the 46th Annual Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) conference in New York last week.

Editors Paul Glassman and Judy Dyki said,

“We are thrilled that the Handbook was selected by ARLIS/NA for this award since it represents the scholarly research and writing of many Society members and other contributors. It is an honour to receive this recognition from this dynamic professional organization.”

 The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship integrates theory and practice to offer guidelines for materials and collections management, reviews best practice in teaching and learning and presents innovative approaches to knowledge creation, library spaces, promotion and sustainability for information professionals working in art and design environments who need to support and anticipate the information needs of artists, designers, architects and the historians who study those disciplines.

The Worldwide Books Award for Publications recognizes outstanding publications by ARLIS/NA Individual members in librarianship or visual resources curatorship, and the arts. By recognizing special achievement in these areas the Award acknowledges and encourages scholarly publication by the ARLIS/NA membership.

Find out more about the book, including a free sample chapter here.

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