Preservation

posted Oct 21, 2011, 7:22 PM by jj pionke
One of the things that I am really aware of being here at the University of Michigan is that my time here is very short.  I have 4 semester here and no more than that.  I am sure that I could do other degrees etc if I wanted to, but for all intents and purposes, my time is very limited.  Two years seems like a long time until you look at the course catalog and realize that the number of classes outweighs the number of slots available for them and that there are some classes that you are just not going to be able to take.  This semester, I took two required classes, Context Inquiry and what amounts to Intro to Computers.  I also took Information Literacy, which has been brilliant.  I had to take a how to teach class as part of my Graduate Student Instructor job.  Finally, at the last minute, I decided to add a half semester class named Preservation Administration.

As a half semester class, it is only worth 1.5 credits and it ends next week.  I've kind of fallen in love with it.  Part of it is the teacher.  Shannon Zachary is amazing.  She is calm, extremely knowledgeable, patient, kind, and just an overall great teacher.  The subject matter is just fascinating to me.  I originally signed up for the class because it counts towards the library science specialization and I thought at least I could rack up some more library science credits.  However, once the class started, I realized that I really liked what I was learning.

Archives, Libraries, and other types of knowledge depositories all deal with preservation in some way.  They all have to have rules in place to follow in order to extend the life of the collections, in short, to preserve them.  No object is immortal.  No matter how well preserved, at some point, that object will fall apart and crumble into dust.  When we are talking about books and documents, most of these tend to be written on paper that isn't ph neutral by any stretch of the imagination.  Still, there are plenty of books and what not that have survived hundreds of years and if you talk about papyrus, thousands of years.  This class really brought home the policies and the fragility of these cultural items, heck, of my personal library!  There were parts that were kind of horrifying and parts that were delightful.  One of the horrifying bits was definitely learning that 80% of all the early films, the black and white pre-talkies, are all gone.  They simply don't exist anymore.  They were filmed on nitrate film that is a serious fire hazard and the films themselves were stored in poor environments and so they just fell apart either through fire, disintegration, or vinegar syndrome (literally the film looks the dry cracked earth pictures of a drought and it smells like vinegar).  

The class got me thinking about what we preserve and why and how the things that we preserve sometimes seem to have no value but then become very valuable later one.  Also, how we preserve things matters a lot.  There is this huge push to make things digital and I understand why. Holding onto the physical object takes up a lot of space and costs a lot of money, especially if there has to be time and money spent on conserving/repairing/preserving an item.  On the other hand, the standards for digital aren't really set yet and we live in an age where technology turns over in what seems like every 5 minutes.  It is certainly a conundrum and one that doesn't necessarily have a good answer other than do the best that you can.  

The class has interested me enough to take the second class in the series, which is Advanced Preservation Administration.  I know, really unique title there, right?  I am looking forward to it though.  I took a peek at the syllabus and I believe that we will be talking about disaster planning, which hey, I love a good disaster and I am pretty good at planning so, win!  I'll let you know how it goes!
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