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.
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 national 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.
Follow Preservation Week on Twitter using the hashtag
#preswk and look out for our other author interviews that we will be releasing throughout the week.
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Facet Publishing have announced the release of Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson’s The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content.
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.
This guest post from Sara Mannheimer and Ryer Banta is about introducing undergraduates to the foundations of research data management through something everyone can relate to—organizing personal digital files. You can read more about their experience in The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving which features their co-authored chapter, “Personal Digital Archiving as a Bridge to Research Data Management”
In 2016, we were both working at Montana State University Library, but working in totally different divisions. Sara was the Data Management Librarian with a focus on research data management and data management planning for faculty and graduate students. Ryer was the Undergraduate Experience Librarian, focusing on information literacy instruction and support for undergraduate students. In many ways it would seem that we were living in very different parts of the library.
Although our jobs were quite different, we connected over our shared conviction that undergraduates would benefit from learning fundamental research data management skills. Undergraduates are entering a data-driven job market, where skills related to data management are in high demand. In industry, data scientists are working in a wide variety of sectors, and in academia, researchers are increasingly required to publish research data. Tailoring research data management lessons to undergraduates also served a key student population at MSU. Montana State University is a mid-sized university with about 16,500 total students, about 14,000 of whom are undergraduates. So we knew that there could be a big potential impact if we could figure out a meaningful way to help undergraduates build research data management skills.
As we began to think about creating a useful and meaningful research data management related lesson for undergraduates, our immediate challenge was figuring out how to get over the hurdle of making research data management relevant. Most undergraduates do not encounter research data on a regular basis, and we wanted to connect research data management to their daily life, their current schoolwork, or ideally both. The instructional principle of making lessons relevant may seem to be fairly common sense, but it is also supported by constructivist learning theory. We dipped our toes into this rich area of scholarship while developing our lesson, focusing on a couple of aspects of constructivist learning theory. For anyone developing learning experiences, we highly recommend dipping your toes, and even diving headlong, into constructivist learning theory and related theories.
Constructivist learning theory encompasses several principles, but we focused on the principles related to active, student-focused discovery. Two core tenets of constructivist learning theory specify that:
- New learning builds on prior knowledge. By tapping into students’ past experiences, educators can create a learning sequence that extends from prior knowledge to the current lesson to a lifelong pattern of curiosity and learning.
- Meaningful learning develops through “authentic” tasks. Activities conducted in class should simulate activities that students will use in their class assignments and in their real lives. This strategy ensures that the skills students learn in the classroom have direct relevance to their lives outside of the classroom.
Applying these tenets provided us with new insights about how to make research data management relevant for undergraduates. Given that new learning builds on prior knowledge, we aimed to understand students’ prior knowledge regarding data, tap into students’ past learning experiences, and then build upon that knowledge in the classroom. Given that meaningful learning develops through “authentic” tasks, we aimed to teach concrete, relatable skills that could be practiced both during instruction and afterwards. We wanted to position research data management skills in the context of students’ current lives, rather than promising a theoretical applicability to an abstract future career.
Taking a cue from constructivist learning theories, we realized that we could start with data that students already use and manage on a daily basis, specifically their digital files on their computers. At the same time, we also realized that many of the basic principles of research data management are also found in personal digital archiving practice. These dual realizations helped us focus our lesson on principles and practices that could be immediately applied to students’ digital files. In fact, in our lesson, we designed activities that got students started on reorganizing their files following personal digital archiving best practices. We organized our lesson into four key sections:
- Set the stage. Students describe the use, importance, and challenges of data within their discipline or other personally relevant contexts. This step helps prepare students to apply the lesson to their own lives.
- Basics of personal digital archiving. Students discover basic personal digital archiving strategies and principles that are also used to manage research data. This step provides a foundation of knowledge that informs in-class activities.
- Apply learning with activities. Students apply personal digital archiving strategies and principles to organize and document their own files and data. This step provides students with hands-on experience with personal digital archiving strategies.
- Debrief to connect personal digital archiving to research data management. Students reflect upon the value of the personal digital archiving principles and practices for their own personal data and discover the connection and similarities between personal digital archiving and research data management. This step allows students to process the lesson and consider future applications of the skills they learned.
We have had success with this lesson, and we have found that teaching personal digital archiving practices can act as a bridge that connects key practices of research data management to students’ everyday lives. Personal digital archiving builds on students’ prior knowledge of their digital belongings, and allows students to learn through authentic tasks that have immediate relevance to their daily lives. We hope that other librarians and educators can adapt and reuse the basic instructional strategies that we developed in their own learning contexts. Critical thinking about managing digital materials—whether personal files or research data—is a foundational skill that will benefit students during their undergraduate education and in their future careers.
Ryer Banta is the information literacy and technology librarian at Centralia College (WA), where he manages digital resources and services, and helps learners develop information literacy and lifelong learning skills. His research interests include open education, instructional design, educational technology, information literacy, and user experience.
You can follow Ryer on Twitter @RyerBanta
Sara Mannheimer is the data librarian at Montana State University in Bozeman, where she facilitates research data management and sharing, and promotes digital scholarship using library collections and “big data” sources. Her research focuses on data management practices, data discovery, digital preservation, and the social, ethical, and technical issues surrounding data-driven research.
You can follow Sara on Twitter @saramannheimer
The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving helps information professionals break down archival concepts and best practices into teachable solutions. Whether it’s an academic needing help preserving their scholarly records, a student developing their data literacy skills or someone backing up family photos and videos to protect against hard-drive failure, this book will show information professionals how to offer assistance.
Find out more about the book and read a sample chapter here.
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