Preservation intent without the racism

Preservation intent

This week’s readings all build off the concept of preservation intent. In Chapter 5, Owens raises the two key questions of preservation intent: What about the object do you want to preserve? What do you need to do to preserve this aspect of the object? These questions should not be asked just at the beginning of the process, but continually during the processing of the content.

Some files will not be kept or preserved after considering preservation intent. The Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library of Emory University opted to remove such unnecessary files after acquiring Salman Rushdie’s laptop. After realizing preservation intent, Owens notes that archivists may choose not to preserve the object itself, but documentations of the object’s use. This was the case with Nicole Contaxis of the National Library of Medicine choosing to preserve a how-to on using the Grateful Med database, rather than the entire database itself. Owens also uses the example of preserving a screenshot for the Form Art website, rather than an emulation. The National Library of Australia (NLA) opted to use this preservation method for their PANDORA web archive as well.

This week’s readings also introduced the concept of significant properties, which are the aspects of digital objects that must be preserved if the object is to have continued significance. Webb, Pearsen, and Koerbin note that this concept can be more hindering than helpful for approaches to digital preservation. The authors assert that preservation intent should be declared before determining what the significant properties are, meaning the significant properties would be subjective rather than objective and universal. Yeo affirms this notion that there are no objective measures for value. There is no single method for digital preservation and preservation approaches should depend on the situation.

Archives and marginalized communities

Community participation is important for the preservation of objects from marginalized communities. If archival repositories intend to preserve the events and movements surrounding marginalized communities, such participation should be considered when creating the preservation intent.

Shilton, Srinivasan, Jules, and Drake note the foundation of white supremacy instilled in traditional archives – archival processing has historically been done without the input of marginalized communities, leading to finding aids that lack proper context and collections without diverse perspectives.

Shilton and Srinivasan promote participatory archival processing, which means seeking and listening to input from the actual community creators of the objects. Having “narrative and thick descriptions” from the community lead to contextual knowledge for the archival collection. Shilton and Srinivasan refer to these as empowered narratives, where the community is no longer being spoken for by archivists.

Jules addresses the significance of social media as it relates to protesting and causes. Social media helps promote awareness, allows news to spread faster, and helps movements grow. The preservation of social media is an obvious choice if an archive is interested in such topics, but it also leads to ethical and legal issues. Jules raises the concerns of protecting people in the social media collection, such as from repercussions from the police, and potentially being sued by the social media platform.

Drake promotes building allyship with marginalized communities should archives want to preserve their memory. Allyship involves genuinely wanting to learn about the lived experience of people in these communities and aid them, not just using them for collection development. Drake suggests that archivists help build up community archives and use their existing collections “to host dialogues, programs, and exhibits” around the issues faced by the community.

Affordances of media

In Chapter 3, Owens asserts that we can easily make quality informational copies with computing, but that artifactual qualities of these objects are lost. This is due to the platform layers involved with digital objects, à la the cake analogy used last week by Margaret Rose. Owens provides the example of the Rent script, where only the final version was visible in Word 5.1, while Jonathon Larson’s edits were visible in other text editors. According to Owens, the digital preservation field has essentially given up on preserving these additional layers and artificial qualities.

With a focus on informational preservation and ease of use, Arms and Fleischhauer detail the sustainability, quality, and functionality factors that the Library of Congress considers when selecting digital formats for preservation. The 7 sustainability factors are disclosure (documentation of the format), adoption (how widely used it is), transparency, self-documentation, external dependencies and how much work it will be to preserve them, impact of patents, and technical protection mechanisms like encryption.

The format selection is also dependent on who the primary audience is and how will they use the object. This determines what quality and functionality factors are given priority when choosing a digital format. The authors provide an example of the factors for the preservation of a still image: normal rendering (on-screen viewing and printing), clarity (high resolution), color maintenance, support for graphic effects and typography (filters, shadows, etc.), and functionality beyond normal rendering (layers and 3-D modeling).

Arms and Fleischhauer’s article offers technical insight on the outcome of considering media affordance and preservation intent. I found the article more difficult to understand but appreciated its technicality.

The media affordance available to the NLA led to hurdles with their web archiving. They deal with incorrect renderings due to their software, difficulty in preserving websites with many file types, unpredictable issues during batch preservation actions due to the idiosyncratic structures of websites, and some access issues due to file obsolescence. For the NLA, preserving the website “content, connections, and context” are of primary importance, while the preservation of the site is secondary. The master copy is preserved to the bit level, but the display copy, which undergoes preservation actions such as migration for long-term access, is of greater importance. The snapshots that the NLA preserve also only retain limited functionality of the original websites.

Discussion Questions

Have you noticed a lack of diversity or evidence of white supremacy in collections or records that you have worked with? How do you intend to address these issues when working as an information professional?

How can information professionals effectively assist digital community archives, when digital preservation is permeated with quick obsolescence and continual need for migration, documentation, auditing, and so on?

When creating their preservation intent, the National Library of Australia digital preservation team consider what “adequate access” for the digital objects are and how long that access needs to be maintained. This is a new concept for me because I generally think “forever” or “as long as possible.” I suppose an object only needs to be kept as long as it’s useful, but how do we determine what will be useful 25, 50, or 100 years from now? How do we know when to deaccession a digital object?

Introduction and Thoughts on Readings

Hi everyone. I’m Maya Reid. I’m starting my second year in the MLIS program and my specialization is Archives and Digital Curation. Preservation is an important aspect of digital curation, so I’m taking this class to learn more about the work and concept.

I’m currently working on my field study at the NASA Goddard Library as a Digital Collections Intern and am also a student assistant in the Special Collections and University Archives on campus. I worked previously as a digitization assistant in the Digitization Center in Hornbake Library. I have experience with digitizing analog materials and screening for file corruption, but still have a lot to learn about preservation.

Professor Owen’s statement that “Preservation is the result of ongoing work of people and commitments of resources. The work is never finished” stood out to me. In my other class this week, Curation in Cultural Institutions, we discussed how digital objects are even more prone to alteration and corruption than analog materials. I had not considered the amount of labor and resources that goes into preserving digital collections. Working in the Special Collections, I suppose I had an idea that a box of records could be shelved in a climate-controlled room and be good to go as far as preservation is concerned (and I realize preservation of analog materials is more detailed than that), so I think I had the same perception for digital objects. That there could be some digital “climate-controlled room” objects could be placed to be properly preserved. I appreciate the wake-up call that digital preservation is more laborious than that.

Lyons brings up a good point when he states archivists are “hidden in the public narrative.” Whenever I tell someone about my studies, the majority of people ask me what an archive or archivist is. It was grating but unsurprising to read about Cerf’s perspective, wherein he seems to think no one preserves digital artifacts. From prior coursework I have garnered that the answer to this dilemma is always “advocacy.” GLAM institutions can empower themselves by advocating to their greater institutions, their user group, wider community, and so on. Thus it was disheartening for me to read Tansey’s contrasting point of view that advocacy doesn’t always work, especially in more bureaucratic institutions. Tansey describes the “cycle of poverty that afflicts archives” and how lack of funding can lead to a digital dark age. I had a lot of faith in the power of advocacy due to previous classes, but now have my doubts about its effectiveness and what the reality of budgetary constraints looks like. I’m interested in what other classmates have to say about Tansey’s essay.