This post was originally posted as several separate posts celebrating Preservation Week. They have been combined here for easier readability.
Established in 2010, Preservation week was created to raise awareness of preservation issues and collections in need of care. Through these posts we aim to highlight preservation challenges and methods here at LMU and in the greater cultural heritage community.
Preservation of an Archival Collection: First Steps
by Clay Stalls
As the National Archives and Records Administration, the federal archives responsible for our national government’s history, notes, preservation is necessary to ensure the long-term stability of an archival collection. This ensures, in turn, that it can be used for research, the other vital function of an archive. At the heart of archival work, then, is the preservation of historical materials. A number of villains work against the stability of archival materials, and an archivist must deal harshly with all of them to stop their insidious work of destroying a collection. The culprits include water and dampness (and subsequent mold), dirt, and perfidious little critters, such as cockroaches, silverfish, and moths.
A critical step in the preservation of an archival collection is its initial acquisition, for it is at this time that a collection can be surveyed for damage, and the damage halted before further harm occurs. A good example of how this work is carried out is an addition to the holdings of David Roberti Papers (CSLA-1) that the Department of Archives and Special Collections oversaw this spring semester. This collection documents the history of California state legislature from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. In total the acquisition was some eighty-five bankers boxes (approximately one cubic foot each in size). They contained records files fifteen to forty years old, which had been in storage spaces less than ideal. Consequently, the Department of Archives and Special Collections had to take the proper steps to ensure the long-term stability of the materials.
Below is a photograph of the boxes after their arrival. They were kept out of the Department of Archives and Special Collections storage area, so that any contaminants in the materials, eg, insect eggs or mold spores, would not infect the other collections.
Below are a couple of shots of how the materials looked. Note the dirt in the folders.
Each box will have to have its contents cleaned and then transferred to an acid-free records storage box. After this they go into the Department of Archives and Special Collections storage area with other materials.
“Acid-free” means that the paper or cardboard lacks the harsh chemicals that normally go into the creation of paper from wood pulp. Instead, “acid-free” materials are made from alpha cellulose, are lignin-free and buffered.
In conclusion: It’s dirty job at times, but somebody has to do it! And it’s worthwhile, for archival collections possess a cultural and historical value that infinitely merit their preservation.
For more information on archival preservation consult the Northeast Document Conservation Center, one of the nation’s premier organizations in this field.
Also see the National Archives guide to preservation.
The Shanghai Jewish Refugee Collection
by Melanie Hubbard
I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I stumbled upon a collection of small boxes labeled “Shanghai Jewish Community.” Stored in the Archives & Special Collections Department’s vault, these boxes of photographic negatives and prints had sat virtually untouched for many years. It’s not that they were neglected in terms of care. These artifacts were and are kept in acid free envelopes within acid
free boxes and stored at around 52 degrees Fahrenheit, a preservation standard. It’s also not that the department was unaware of their existence (though I was); it is simply that the materials had yet to be thoroughly processed—not an uncommon circumstance with a collection of LMU’s size.
Curious, I began delving into the contents of these boxes as well as the historical context of
the images —Jewish refugees living in Shanghai during World War II. Why Shanghai? Shanghai had an open door policy—no visa or passport required—and thus became a bastion as many nations, the US included, limited the number of European Jews that could enter their countries.
Photographed and donated by Werner von Boltenstern, these images represent Jewish community life, refugee documentation, Chinese Shanghai citizens, Japanese occupying soldiers and the city itself. The historical and cultural value of this collection is, in my opinion, immense. Taken between 1937-1949, the negatives, which make up the majority of the collection, are a hodgepodge of mediums and formats—gelatin dry plate, cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, sheet film, roll film, 35mm to 3”x 4” and what have you.
Unfortunately, despite the measures taken to preserve them, the fact is these negatives, will (if they haven’t already) begin to deteriorate. In short, glass negatives are fragile and grow increasingly brittle with time. Their silver halide, which essentially makes up the image, is prone to oxidization and thus fading. Acetate too may deteriorate and, as it does, undergo what is known as vinegar syndrome—a highly unpleasant situation, to say the least. And finally nitrate, beyond having deterioration issues, is also highly combustible to the point that it may do so
spontaneously. Essentially what we are talking about here are unstable materials for which the deterioration process has been slowed down but not stopped by the various preservation methods mentioned above.
“Digitize them” you may be thinking and indeed we have, just recently. But digitization is easier said than done, especially when you are talking about scanning negatives. They are tedious and fragile and are often scanned at particularly high resolutions, which is slow. Then there are things like quality control and cropping, meaning the removal of extraneous space around the scanned image. Both of these tasks take up a surprising amount of time. Just to give you some perspective, working approximately 25 hours per week, it has taken around two and a half months to scan and crop 553 negatives and 113 prints…and scanning is just the first stage. Now we need to concern ourselves with metadata, the data that will describe the images and enable users to search for them within LMU’s digital library. This will likely take a few months more.
I am personally very pleased, even relieved, that we have been able to digitize this historically and culturally rich collection. Having said that, I believe it is important to state that we have not, in my opinion, actually committed an act of preservation, at least not physical preservation. After all, digitizing
the images will have no effect on the original analog artifacts; it won’t increase their lifespan. In actuality what we have done is create new objects, digital objects, and these objects will now (here is the fun part) need to be preserved through a process known as digital preservation.
An act of preservation or not, digitizing this collection was essential; for while scanning the negatives will not save the precious analog originals, it will, technology willing, preserve the images they contain. Furthermore, and this is huge, digitization facilitates access, be it
to rare materials that would otherwise be accessible to only a few, to objects that are being lost to deterioration or simply to objects in a difficult viewing format; an example being photographic negatives.
The Werner von Boltenstern Shanghai Jewish Refugee Collection, as it is now known, will eventually be available in LMU’s digital library. In the meantime the digital library team will conduct research, add metadata and continue to make new discoveries. (Editor’s note: The Werner von Boltenstern Shanghai Photograph and Negative Collection is now available in Digital Collections.) For information on this or any other special collection please contact the Department of Archives & Special Collections.
Images from the top down:
1) Acid free boxes that hold the collection
2) A sampling of cellulose and glass negatives
3) Men from the Jewish community standing in line as a Japanese soldier looks on (c1938-1939)
4) Children from the Shanghai Jewish community (c1938-1939)
Preserving Your Recollections
by Mahnaz Ghaznavi
Did you know?
Our memory is not as reliable as we might believe. Research indicates our ability to recall is fallible and our memories fade (Beil, 2011). Many of us have sought to document our immediate memories through diaries, pictures, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, time capsules, home movies, social media postings, and other vehicles that we hope will outlast our time in history. The choices we make when we create and store our records effect how long they endure and future generations’ ability to access them. Newsprint, photographs, film, video and audio cassettes, as well as digital files are all known to deteriorate over time. What can you do today to prolong the life of your keepsakes?
Archivists, rare book librarians, conservation scientists, and other cultural heritage professionals are trained to recognize the impediments to the preservation of collections material found in libraries, archives, and museums in order to remediate them. Recognizing that this information is of potential use to individuals outside the field, various cultural heritage organizations, led by the Library of Congress and the National Archives, have set themselves the task of sharing with the public tips and techniques for delaying the decay of personal collections.
A few ways we can inadvertently accelerate the deterioration of our collections are to subject material to:
- improper enclosures and furnishings;
- adhesives, metal fasteners;
- high humidity and high temperature;
- severe fluctuations in humidity and temperature;
- extended exposure to light or water;
- frequent or improper handling material;
- inadequate protection in the case of a man-made or natural disaster.
To prolong the life of your keepsakes, consider their material make-up, storage and handling, display and use needs and understand the signs of damage. Learn more by accessing the publicly available resource Preservation 101, Preservation Basics for Paper and Media Collections, which provides reliable, comprehensive, detailed information about what you can do today to support the recollections of tomorrow.
The ability to create and share resources about and engage in preservation relies on the work of a number of institutions that require on-going support; to learn more about advocacy efforts and federal funding priorities visit the National Humanities Alliance site.
- Beil, L. (2011, November 28). The certainty of memory has its day in court. New York Times.
- National Humanities Alliance (2013). Federal Funding Priorities.
- Northeast Document Conservation Center (2006). Preservation 101, Preservation Basics for Paper and Media Collections.
Image by author unless otherwise stated below
- Image Permanence Institute (2009). Image Permanence [.jpg]. Retrieved from http://www.dp3project.org/newsletter/v2/dp3newsletter_v2.html
- Nguyen, A.M. (2012). Memory [.jpg]. Retrieved from http://www.thenounproject.com collection.
Setting the Stage for Digital Video Preservation
by Taz Morgan
As revealed by the previous posts in this series, caring for collections comes in many different forms. The preservation work in which I’m currently engaged is very much preparatory or anticipatory, i.e. focused on making and formalizing preservation plans for our archival audiovisual collections. Specifically, my colleagues and I are weighing the costs, risks and benefits of different approaches to preserving thousands of video recordings of cable access and public TV shows. The programs in our holdings aired in Los Angeles during the 80s, 90s, and 00s and illustrate a picture of life in Southern California outside the lens of commercial media.
Like the photographic negatives in the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Collection, the videotape cassettes, for example, in the Bill Rosendahl-Adelphia Communications Corporation Collection of Public Affairs Television Programs will inherently deteriorate over time even if stored in optimal, climate-controlled conditions. The natural process of degradation compounded with the growing obsolescence of playback equipment makes video very fragile and at risk. Thus, the standard practice to preserve the content is to transfer it from its original carriers to digital forms. We have selected a portion of the Rosendahl-Adelphia collection to be reformatted, and we plan to outsource digitization to a vendor. My preparatory and anticipatory work is based around setting the stage for digitization and post-digitization. Some preservation-related questions that have come up in this planning phase are:
- What file formats should the programmatic content be transferred to?
- How much data storage will we need?
- How much will digitization cost?
- How will we operate once we have large-sized video files sitting on hard drives?
- How will we make the files accessible to students and researchers from the community?
Once, these questions are settled and some foundational layers are set, we’ll be able to develop a more systematic program of digital preservation. Melanie brought up digital preservation in her post earlier this week. She stressed that digitization does not mean digital preservation. (This is not just an exercise in semantics!) Digitization is a one-time process. The Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF-SPDA) says it best, and I paraphrase their report here: Digital preservation is a continual process of creating sustainable access over time. For now, like many other cultural heritage institutions, we will be working with interim solutions and finding ways to reconcile best practices with realistic timeframes, resources, and budgets. But, ultimately, the goal of our preservation efforts is sustainability.
Standards are emerging. Technologies are changing. It can be daunting to even begin thinking about digital preservation. Instead of seeing the whole process as a constant uphill battle, I think the most successful preservationists have viewed the ‘digital dilemma’ (a phase borrowed from the 2007 report by the Sci-Tech Council of AMPAS on preservation of motion picture materials) as a call for innovation; as a call to collaborate and connect with others who are struggling with the same questions. Kara Van Malssen, Steven Villereal, and Lauren Sorenson personify the kind of creativity sparking up in the digital A/V preservation trenches. As members of the AMIA Open Source Committee, Kara, Steven, and Lauren organized CURATEcamp: AVPres, which took place on April 19. This ‘unconference’ encouraged collaboration between the digital preservation field and the moving image archives community. I had the pleasure of attending it on the UCLA campus, one of eight physical ‘camp’ sites for the day, but many attendees participated outside of these hubs, connecting through Google+ Hangouts and YouTube. Participants were invited to talk about digital preservation issues that affect their daily work. Topics included how to handle large-sized files; metadata; workflows; file-naming conventions; managing born-digital files; and storage. Although I sometimes felt overwhelmed (What? I’m an archivist, not a programmer…), the enthusiasm and commitment to keep up the good preservation fight, so to speak, was infectious. This work will continue to challenge and re-define my notions of what preservation is.
If you’re ready to tackle your own personal digital video preservation needs, The Library of Congress has an easy-to-digest, online guide to help you figure out how to begin. Of course, most of the preservation work outlined in the guide revolves around planning!
Images from the top down:
1.) Two screen caps from Week in Review, Episode 1614, 2001-01-07
2.) Snapshot from CURATEcamp: AVPres, 2013-04-19
My Dog Ate the Library Book
by Glenn Johnson-Grau, Collection Development Librarian
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
“Marginalia” – Billy Collins
This week we have seen great posts on the fascinating materials that the library preserves and provides access to through the Department of Archives & Special Collections. Today’s topic is more prosaic, but its impact is great because it affects all library users: the condition of our circulating collections.
Library materials are there to be used and normal wear and tear are expected. However, sometimes it goes well beyond that. Take, at left, our copy of Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace, which was recently returned to us looking like it got in a fight with a giant lobster…and lost. We appreciate the fact that the patron alerted us to the damage done by her dog and was willing to pay to replace the book.
More frustrating for us in the library is damage that is not reported: books returned with food stuck between the pages (which, in addition to being disgusting, may then attract pests); water-damaged books (occasionally with mold already starting to grow), and books with pages ripped out, including, once, a Bible with about 30 pages torn out.
Then there are the books with writing in them. This is hardly a new development, as seen in our copy of Virgil’s Opera cum Commentariis Servii, published in 1485, where a long-ago reader made extensive comments. Reader notes in books is an area of growing scholarly interest, as documented in works including H. J. Jackson’s Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (Yale University Press, 2001). As Jackson relates, authors from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac were inveterate scribblers, doodlers, and note takers.
Far be it for us to discourage the next Coleridge from expressing their genius in the margins of their own copy of a book. However, we would remind our patrons that library materials are a shared resource for the entire LMU community, now and for generations to come. And that this past year we spent over $25,000 of University funds, which means tuition dollars, replacing over 500 lost, stolen, and damaged books. Much of that was billed back to library users when we are confident they were responsible, with a default charge of $80 per book, as that is the average cost of what we pay for a new book.
Before adding to the rainbow of our – since replaced – copy of Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts (at left) with its pencil, green pen, and three shades of highlighter, we would ask you instead to think of Virginia Woolf’s model of extensive annotations and notes about her reading written in separate notebooks. Or, if you are not that organized, avail yourself of the greatest invention for annotators since her time: Post-It® Notes.