Preservation Week concluded yesterday.  According to the American Library Association (ALA), Preservation Week “was created in 2010 because some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care.  Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all.  Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan.  As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike.  Personal, family, and community collections are equally at risk.”

The danger of losing the use of old artifacts or the devastation of natural disasters are ever-present threats.  I was certainly struck by this point when I visited Prague several years after their horrific flood, and I wound up using that experience as a springboard for studying disaster preparedness and emergency planning (and writing a paper that you can see on the Writings page).

But perhaps the more insidious threat is to digital objects.  Whether because of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon or because of the notion that things must be “old” before they need preservation, born digital materials often slip by without much preservation attention paid to them.  But bit rot and software obsolescence and other dangers loom large for these digital objects.  The Northeast Document Conservation Center has collected a nice page of resources about digital preservation, including a primer on digital preservation.  I’m struck that the section Howard Besser wrote on “Digital Longevity” for this 2000 volume is still largely current in the issues it raises.  While, on the one hand, this could be evidence that Besser was very forward-thinking, on the other hand, it seems to indicate that the archival world has not made a lot of progress resolving some of the issues that plague digital preservation.

One of the things that has been done well is the LOCKSS program.  It stands for Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe and was begun in 1999 by Victoria Reich and David S. H. Rosenthal.  In June at the ALA annual conference, they will be awarded the 2014 LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Outstanding Communication in Library and Information Technology.  The LOCKSS system is based on five simple principles:

  • Decentralized and distributed preservation (lots of copies keeps stuff safe)
  • Give libraries local custody and control of their assets
  • Preserve the publisher’s original authoritative version
  • Perpetual access – guaranteed and seamless
  • Affordable and Sustainable

Reich and Rosenthal are worthy honorees.  May more people answer their call for digital preservation.  One recent effort comes from Meghan Banach Bergin.  She conducted a survey on digital preservation and published online her survey instrument along with her conclusions.  It makes for interesting reading after the 2000 primer.