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Friday, October 21, 2011

Preserving the image or the artifact?

In a recent blog post on The Signal, Digital Preservation from the Library of Congress, the interesting distinction was raised between preserving the image as opposed to preserving the artifact. The article is called "Information or Artifact: Digitizing Photographic Negatives and Transparencies, Part 1." In the context of preservation, scanning a document, such as a book for instance, preserves the information but does nothing to preserve the artifact, i.e. the book itself. You may also want to refer to the Internet Archive Blogs articles, "Why Preserve Books? The New Physical Archive of the Internet Archive" of June 6, 2011 by Brewster Kahle. In a the article, Kahle said,

Internet Archive is building a physical archive for the long term preservation of one copy of every book, record, and movie we are able to attract or acquire.  Because we expect day-to-day access to these materials to occur through digital means, the our physical archive is designed for long-term preservation of materials with only occasional, collection-scale retrieval. Because of this, we can create optimized environments for physical preservation and organizational structures that facilitate appropriate access. A seed bank might be conceptually closest to what we have in mind: storing important objects in safe ways to be used for redundancy, authority, and in case of catastrophe.
The goal is to preserve one copy of every published work. The universe of unique titles has been estimated at close to one hundred million items. Many of these are rare or unique, so we do not expect most of these to come to the Internet Archive; they will instead remain in their current libraries. But the opportunity to preserve over ten million items is possible, so we have designed a system that will expand to this level. Ten million books is approximately the size of a world-class university library or public library, so we see this as a worthwhile goal. If we are successful, then this set of cultural materials will last for centuries and could be beneficial in ways that we cannot predict.
 This is a personal issue as well as an issue involving institutional document preservation. How many of us think that once we have a scanned image of our documents that the original can be disposed of summarily? Do we have any responsibility, as we collect documents and original artifacts, including the documents themselves, books, and other physical items, to preserve those items? In the observation made by Kahle in the Why Preserve Books? Article, he goes on to say,
Digital technologies are changing both how library materials are accessed and increasingly how library materials are preserved. After the Internet Archive digitizes a book from a library in order to provide free public access to people world-wide, these books go back on the shelves of the library. We noticed an increasing number of books from these libraries moving books to “off site repositories” ... to make space in central buildings for more meeting spaces and work spaces. These repositories have filled quickly and sometimes prompt the de-accessioning of books. A library that would prefer to not be named was found to be thinning their collections and throwing out books based on what had been digitized by Google. While we understand the need to manage physical holdings, we believe this should be done thoughtfully and well. (Some links omitted).
The Library of Congress post raises a slightly different issue by asking the question, "So what level of resolution is needed to capture the image information from a negative? This has been a vexing problem for many of us during the last two decades of digitization projects, partly because we have not adequately thought through the distinction between informational and artifactual capture." Are we all fooling ourselves to think that a 300 dpi .tiff file scan is sufficient to "preserve" the document?

I have been monitoring the discussions going on in the digital preservation world and I think it is time that the genealogical community started to become more involved in the discussion.


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