2 Replies to ““The Library is desolation:” Rethinking Preservation”

  1. The ideas you raise remind me of something my advisor often says, and can be found in a number of ethnomusicological works: in the act of trying to preserve something, we inevitably change it. For example, old-time music is typically instrumental music played by fiddle, banjo, guitar, upright bass, and mandolin, and there’s a pretty small set of tunes that are considered standard. The tradition goes back quite a long time, and some practitioners are concerned with preserving the music… making sure the old standards are still the new standards. Other groups don’t mind adding unconventional instruments, adding new songs, covering popular songs, and other traditions– arguing instead that early old-time musicians would not have had such strict standards to their music.

    The important thing to remember, in my mind, is that neither way of thinking is wrong/bad: both groups are doing things that keep that musical tradition going. In a similar vein, I think that it’s easy to get caught up in the “desolation” when dealing with archival preservation: all the things we leave behind. Instead, the activities you discussed at the end of your blog: providing access, writing blogs, allowing for remixing/usage, all focus instead on what we can keep, and what we can create. I think that’s a much more fruitful outlook to have on what libraries/archives can do.

  2. I think your assertion here that “there might not just be a best way to preserve a particular type of object” is a really powerful and important one. In my experience there is a pervasive “can-do” attitude among librarians and archivists. When presented with a new challenge we tend to say “yes, we can do that!” first, and then figure out exactly how it will be done later. I don’t mean to say that this is a failing – in fact it’s one of the great strengths of the profession – but in certain situations it can be a barrier to progress.

    A hypothetical example: An archivist taking possession of something as fragile and temporary as Hesse’s Expanding Expansions might ask themselves “can I preserve this?” and answer with an enthusiastic “yes!” regardless of the reality of the situation. In the end, after the futile expense of much time, effort, and money, the object is so degraded that other forms of preservation such as 3D scanning have become impossible. In this case, if the archivist had recognized from the beginning that this physical object was impossible to preserve, more productive avenues could have been pursued.

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