“Hello!” and Some Thoughts on Preserving Creative Context

Hello everyone! I’m Pedro, a MLS student in my last semester on the Curation of Digital Assets track. I currently work at UMD Special Collections in Performing Arts as a project archivist. Before entering the iSchool I received a MA in musicology from UMD, studying music and the moving image (primarily in film and video games), and technology in popular music. My interest in this class stems primarily from my desire to learn how to manage the new types of artistic works created by digital media (an obvious answer, I suppose!) and my interest in the confluence of technology and creativity. Digital works fascinate me because each piece can be a unique challenge to an archivist in regards to understanding how it should be “framed.”

Of course, these types of boutique preservation jobs start to look just a tad indulgent when the backlog gets growing, and even the most dedicated custom jobs can’t always get things perfect. Fino-Radin had to make sacrifices when using open-source tools to preserve Legendary Account, such as the use of PNG screenshots since the tool created unstable PDF/As. These “good enough” solutions can get under the skin of folks in this field, so thankfully there are some other strategies out there to help. I like Paul Messier’s idea of preservation systems that provide general guidelines to (hopefully) deal with most of the preservation issues, allowing you more time to spend on the things that don’t fit the mold; however, I have no experience working with these systems so I can’t vouch for their usefulness. All my preservation work thus far has been the relatively straightforward process of transferring analog audio materials to digital formats.

Embedded curators can also help make a difference by working with individual artists and creative communities, showing them how best to preserve their works while simultaneously gaining a deeper appreciation of the works and their cultural context. I believe wholeheartedly in the notion of “archivist as community facilitator” and find these preemptive preservation strategies very appealing. Last semester I got a bit of experience with this in LBSC731 Special Collections when I created a collection development policy for a (imaginary) chiptunes repository. An issue with my policy was that I placed too much attention on the realization of a chiptune work (aka the actual sound) and not the programming. This meant that I ignored the technocratic aspects of early chiptune culture, the workmanship and one-upmanship that went into coding. Thankfully a member of that community looked over my first draft and corrected my glaring oversight! This was my crash course on preserving a realization (the thing presented to the viewer) vs. preserving the instructions for realization (the code, types of software used, etc.).

3 Replies to ““Hello!” and Some Thoughts on Preserving Creative Context”

  1. Great to virtually meet you Pedro! That chiptune preservation plan sounds like a fantastic project. You could totally use this course as an opportunity to go further with that if you want. I know we have at least one reading that get’s into chiptunes (the Endless Loop essay from the journal of transformative works). It’s great that you noted the limitations of your approach from before. You’re right, a lot of the most interesting and significant aspects of many of those works is details about the process from which they are made. I think this underscores a key point about the value of preservation intent statements as part of conceptualizing significant properties for a work or a set of works. Ultimately, there are nearly an endless set of things that could be significant about a work and I think only by making explicit what matters for a given use can we be able to assess ourselves.

  2. Hi Pedro, You mention the unique preservation jobs, the ones that don’t fit the mold, and how that can become burdensome on time and create backlogs. That was my thought as I read through the Fino-Radin article. How could any organization keep up with that? Then I got to the Smithsonian article and one of the first things it describes is scalability. Mark Heller from SFMOMA talks about dealing with software-based works and that someone asked him once how he would deal with having 1,000 of these works. He answered that right now the museum only had eight, so they should be okay for awhile and will hopefully figure out some sort of structure by the time they have 1,000. I wonder if the technology might change so much over the coming years that it still may be difficult to keep up with despite some similarities between types of work? This article is fairly recent – interviews were collected during 2013 – but I’m curious if Heller has seen an increase in this type of work, as well as the rest of the institutions. This is also not an area I know much about, so the work Fino-Radin put into the three artworks he describes was very interesting, but also slightly daunting.

    1. I had the same thoughts when I read that section. The lessons learned from those eight works will be invaluable, I’m sure, but when several projects are avant garde works that push the boundaries in different ways… I feel like even after 1,000 projects, the preservation system will be experiencing some serious growing pains. Still, maybe if we are willing to accept a “good enough” solution and come to terms with losing the occasional work, things will begin to appear more manageable. I am eager to hear more about Heller’s progress.

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