What are Preservation and Conservation Technologies?


As long as there have been museums, their mission has been to preserve and conserve our collective cultural heritage. Preservation refers to the protection of important objects, artifacts, and documents; conservation is the science of maintaining objects in as close to their original form as possible. As technology evolves, archivists and conservators have encountered a steady stream of new challenges in both of these tasks. Digital objects can be as delicate as ancient objects, requiring special care, and changing technologies puts these digital items at great risk. Cultural works that are time-based add a level of complexity in the quest for preservation, due to the added consideration of the artist's intent, or context, or movement. Understanding and preserving how media is intended to be experienced while maintaining the integrity of its cultural identity encompasses a number of a considerations such as conservation ethics, legal agreements, availability of mechanical and/or digital materials, and historical scholarship. While museums have long employed specialists in artifact preservation, today new professionals are needed who understand digital and time-based media, and can address preservation and conservation challenges not only from physical, but artistic, cultural, engineering, electronic, and other multi-disciplinary perspectives.


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(1) How might this technology be relevant to academic and research libraries?

  • we struggle with this now as we are getting more and more items digitally to preserve. In the past, something could be placed on the shelf and processed when the archivists got to it. That is not the case today with digital assets. A hard drive may not spin up if it sits on a shelf too long before it's processed. Then there is the outdated version or technology that must be dealt with. Additionally, choosing what to preserve has taken on a whole new context. In the past, you were limited by the amount of space you had to store a physical object. Now with digital, it can very quickly get large and a lot of the information may be irrelevant so preservation decisions have to be made. Also, archivists are requiring more and more technology skills to stay current in their evolving field. - dianeb dianeb Apr 10, 2015
  • We, too, have been adapting our preservation services for some time to have a stronger focus on digital preservation. Any faculty archive, and most other collections, that we receive today has some digital component, and managing that material brings a new set of challenges. As noted, digital preservation is much more active than the more passive storage of physical materials, and it impacts our staffing model significantly. - mcalter mcalter Apr 12, 2015 - DaveP DaveP Apr 14, 2015 Agreed expectations are high, curation is time consuming, difficult and requires a wider skills set than many librarians possess today- DaveP DaveP Apr 14, 2015
  • Academic and research institutions put increased focus on unique content that is curated and produced by their users: academics, instructors and students. Digital assets have unique characteristics that require proper tools and infrastructure to support full life-cycle management - from planning through collection and storage, management, organization and dissemination. On top of that, the scale of these assets can be huge - in terms of size and complexity of the digital objects. In order to enable on-going access to digital assets, active preservation is necessary and libraries and IT often join forces to provide solutions. - oren oren
  • It seems that two ends are driving this--patrons who are mobile and/or otherwise distant, and materials in our collections that are more and more fragile. On the one end, preservation and conservation technologies boost access. With mobile and distant patrons we are trying to provide access to our collections through digitization efforts, and continuing to learn how to do this more effectively. This is also permitting us to move large portions of our collections to off-site storage, while still providing easy access to digital surrogates. A win for both patrons and library real estate that is shifting to new use. On the other end is act of materials preservation. Paper has been an excellent medium for a very long time, though we have had to deal with a number of issues that impact its shelf-life for many years. Each new medium, however, seems to be more fragile than the previous one: film, magnetic tape, CD/DVD, flash media. So, while we are working with a backlog of paper-based items, there is intense pressure to be more proactive about preserving new media formats before we lose them. In more ways than one, digital may prove the hardest to preserve as it seems to have a greater ephemerality to it. - anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015- lcshedd lcshedd Apr 23, 2015
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • I think the legal aspects are larger than mentioned above, but that's not my biggest addition to this topic. I also think there's going to be a shift how we think about preservation. When I started working in libraries (2004) I had two roles, one was a manuscripts processor and the other was to manage an oral history program (analog cassette tape), in manuscripts processing we would not hesitate to make a decision to throw something away, we worked on a collection building philosophy of keeping what's "interesting" or "unique." (I know that alone is a debate starter, but only slightly relevant to my point), while in the oral history program we kept everything because we didn't know what we would be able to access later or not and had more of a "we can keep it, so let's do just in case" approach due to the technology questions. I think this is still a relevant challenge: 1) How do we manage the technology issues of preservation (mention above), 2) How do we address the philosophy behind collection processing, 3) How do we determine what is unique about a collection working in a digital context (making a literal correlation between how we process special collections by going through the physical objects). Okay, others help clarify my point please, I don't feel this is a clear as some of my other comments. - lcshedd lcshedd Apr 14, 2015
  • Yes, legal copyright issues abound. I don't know if this is what Leslie is referring to, but I do feel that in the current era where the tools for mass creation of content and data are ever-present in our daily lives (from cellphones to smartwatches), how do we determine what is worth preserving? It's the old adage of "one man's trash is another man's treasure." The problem is, there is a LOT of trash today that needs to be sifted for treasure. Also, how do we avoid having all of us sift through the same heap of digital artifacts--"lots of copies keeps us all busy."- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • Interest in Digital Preservation is definitely picking up among academic and research libraries, joining cultural heritage institutions who seem to have led the domain in past years. We are seeing developments and investments in institutional preservation repositories (see examples below), in collaborative programs and projects (eg DPN (http://www.dpn.org/), as well as joined libraries+archives projects (typically at a state or national level, e.g. State Library of NSW in Australia, and National Library of NZ and Archives NZ). Academic and research libraries focus on curating and preserving the unique digital output of the institution, in the realm of research outputs (including research data) and special collections. Key to many of these preservation programs is the ability to actively manage digital content of various types, to ensure ongoing access. Open Access mandates and policies serve as another catalyst. - oren oren Apr 13, 2015 - janice.welburn janice.welburn Apr 20, 2015
  • As homes to archives around the world, I think we (libraries) view ourselves that the keepers of the flame, preservers of culture and the accumulated sum of human intellectual output. There is a tendency to think that Internet now serves that purpose, but that fails to take into account that the Internet is merely a collection of links, links back to places such as our libraries (also that links disappear from the Internet all the time). Digital preservation and conservation technologies not only allow us to keep the flame burning, but also continue to force us to consider and deal with the challenges that each new medium presents. In a very practical way, these technologies are impacting our expenses for super-sized digital storage and are causing us to develop new workflows and adopt new best practices to deal with conserving, preserving and delivering our archival assets.- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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