Setting the Stage: Creation, Curation, and Use

I had the pleasure of serving as the opening speaker for the 2015 NEDCC Digital Directions conference. This post contains the text of my remarks and the slides from my presentation. Each is intended to be able to stand on its own, so if you want a quick overview, download the slides. If you want to dig in, read on below.

Slides: Self Playing PowerPoint Slideshow (ppsx, 1.7MB)


In this essay, I want to do a few things to prepare you for a productive foray into learning about digital preservation. First, we need to cross the divide from analog to digital. From there, we need to think about what it really means to create digital resources, to curate them, and to put them to use. And finally, we need to get ourselves back home, and ready to do good work.

To ensure you are ready for this journey, please look at your shoes…

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Curatorial Libraries


The Rocky Mountain Land Library is on my mind today. It’s a library-in-progress, still in an aspirational phase, but darned if I don’t hope it works. As the New York Times describes it:

Imagine a network of land-study centers stretching from the Headwaters of South Park to the metro-Denver plains. Each site will be united by the common purpose of connecting people to nature and the land, but each site will have something unique to share:

South Park’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch will offer a 32,000+ natural history library, along with residential living quarters for anyone who would like to experience the quiet and inspiration of a book-lined historic ranch, set on the banks of the South Platte River, and surrounded on all sides by a high mountain landscape, with some peaks rising to over 14,000 feet.

I admire this kind of curatorial vision, and I like to think of a point in the future of libraries when this is the core of what most librarians do. In the Land Library, it’s situating research materials about the land in a site that is proximate to or integrated with the land itself. More generally, it’s understanding a particular research and creative process, so that materials relevant to that process can be optimally arranged in space and time. This curatorial approach to libraries is not revolutionary, but developmental. It builds on the outcomes of the existing model of collection development, which collocated researchers with the largest-attainable quantity of the highest-attainable quantity of resources.

Call it the collecting library, a solution to the information scarcity problem. The curatorial library is an adaptive reuse of that architecture to provide a solution to the attention scarcity problem.

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Endangered Species and Dangerous Metaphors

I gave a short presentation for the ALA Midwinter 2015 Print Archive Network Forum delving into the “endangered species” question for monographs. While the talk was light on formulas and specifics, it expands on some of the work from the UCLA scarcity case study that I worked on with Dawn Aveline and Annie Peterson, and continues to argue two main ideas:

One, that we ought to base the print archive network on local/regional efforts, and not attempt to prescribe a national plan. The national work is net-work: a system to monitor for risk and optimize traffic across sub-nets and nodes. We need some national-level mechanism to alert, convene, and coordinate, but a diversity of localized business models and operational approaches in active conversation is the way to develop to good practices and sustainable programs.

Second, that we need to pace the print archiving effort so that we first address the areas of the collection that both have massive overstock and very low incidence of artifactual or para-textual value. This lets us solve the most pressing resource issues while also buying time to develop the right methods for protecting scarcely-held works and identifying specific books that have material culture value.

What follows is not a verbatim transcript and is a little more expansive than the remarks I made at PAN. The live conversation and session timing called for a few cuts and quips, day-of, but here are the slides (PowerPoint Slide Show: ALAMW2015-PAN-Nadal-Compact) and notes I spoke from:

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Getting involved in PARS

As ALA Annual Vegas recedes into a hazy memory, and with a fresh round of Committee assignments starting and new guidance from PARS-Exec about expectations for Interest Group and Conference participation, I’ve had a few questions from people about how to get involved in PARS.

First off, let me say thank you, bravo, and encore. We need new people to take up the work of the Association, because some of us are more than ready for a little break, plus you seem to have energy, ambition, and good ideas. If you’re wavering, wondering what you might be signing on for, and what you’ll get out of it, let me give it to you plainly:

  • PARS is a friendly group of people.
  • PARS is a small Section of ALA, so we often have room for people who want to get involved.
  • PARS gets a pretty high amount of stuff done, pretty quickly.
  • PARS develops and promotes standards and practices that see actual use.
  • PARS does not get everything done, nor does it do everything quickly.
  • PARS pulls off some big things, Preservation Week, for example.
  • PARS knows more about inherent vice than any other Section of ALA.

Now let me make that all a little murky.

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FRBR Group 1 as a Preservation Administration Framework

I gave a talk on using FRBR group 1 entities as a framework for preservation administration at the FRBR Interest Group during the ALA Annual 2014 conference [Las Vegas, NV; Friday, June 2; 10:30 am PT]. This talk proposed a way of using FRBR to coordinate preservation effort across library networks and to clarify the goals and expected outcomes of preservation and conservation efforts. Special attention was paid to two areas where frameworks for this kind of coordination are urgently needed: managing regional print archives and understanding the role of digitization in preservation management. The slides (download ppsx) and transcript (below) should give a good sense of how this works, and an article that expands on this talk is on its way to Library Resources and Technical Services for review.

The majority of this talk focuses on aligning FRBR group 1 entities with areas of preservation administration, but there are brief remarks on two other frameworks that I’m working on: evaluating scarcity in print collections and describing the focal points for preservation interventions on information carriers. (There’s some clunky language in that last clause, I know. I find these frameworks useful, but I’m still a long way from being able to convey them with any elegance.) These models support the particular use-cases I discussed  in the talk, print archives and reformatting, but they are concepts I have found useful in many other areas, and I use them both in teaching preservation and evaluating preservation strategies.

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Regional Print Management: Discovery to Delivery

On March 27, 2014, I spoke at an OCLC Symposium, “Regional Print Management: Right-Scaling Solutions“. The talk was recorded and can be viewed on OCLC Research YouTube Channel.  I discussed the development of ReCAP and an investigation of strategies and technologies for sharing collections that was funded by teh Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That work is detailed in a report available from ReCAP. The project explored policies, workflows, and technologies require to reposition ReCAP from being three collections sharing a facility into a shared collection, developed and operated by three partners.

Digital Preservation Webinars for NEFLIN

Starting October 21, I’ll be giving another series of webinars on fundamental issues in digital preservation for the members of the Northeastern Florida Library and Information Network(NEFLIN). The first installment introduces some basic concepts that support preservation (of any kind) and uses a variety of examples to show how those issues play out in digital libraries.

Future webinars in the series will provide a deeper introduction to file formats used in digital libraries and the core issues in reliably storing digital content for the long-term:

  • Webinar #2: Monday, November 4: Text and Image Formats
  • Webinar #3: Monday, November 18: Storing and Managing Digital Collections
  • Webinar #4: Monday, December 2: Audio and Video Formats

This series was presented last year, from July 17 – August 23, 2012. A handout of resources and frequently asked questions for both session is available here: DigitalMaterials-ResourcesFAQ.pdf.

Upcoming Webinar: Convert it to preserve it: Digitization and file conversion

I’ll presenting “Convert it to preserve it: Digitization and file conversion”, one of the webinars for the Connection to Collections series Caring for Digital Materials: Preventing a Digital Dark Age.

The webinar takes place on Thursday, April 4, 2013, 2:00 – 3:30 pm EDT. It will cover the key points about creating digital files that will be useful for a long time to come, with a focus on the core formats in use across libraries, archives, and museums: text, images, and audio. The webinar will also touch on video, moving images, data, and interactive systems, but mostly to make sure participants are clued into the risks and state of development for these types of collections.

Forthcoming Chapter on Print and Digital Preservation

I have a chapter scheduled for a forthcoming book entitled Rethinking Collection Development and Management, edited by Christine Copp Avery. I’m writing on the ways that print and digital preservation intersect and while there is probably a whole monograph to be written on that topic alone, here’s the current version of the chapter for your review and comment until I get around to that. I’ll replace this with the pre-print and the final version as the work moves towards publication: Print and Digital Preservation.