“Materials contain the seeds of their own destruction”. A preservation handbook.

Author: Barbara Sierman
Originally posted on: http://digitalpreservation.nl/seeds/materials-contain-the-seeds-of-their-own-destruction-a-preservation-handbook/

harvey-204x300Regularly I have discussions whether digital material and analogue material can be treated the same way or whether the digital aspect requires special treatments, sometimes even resulting in different working processes, staffing and policies. Quite too often this discussion takes place with participants that are either representatives of the digital or of the analogue view. The polite way of trying to understand each other by finding analogies often lead to simplified views and unsatisfying outcomes and nobody gets the wiser. Therefore I was triggered when a new digital preservation handbook exactly raised this issue by stating “This book is based on the philosophy that there are preservation principles that apply to all kinds of materials, whether digital or not.” For a preservation handbook this is a realistic perspective, as organisations have both kinds of materials. The authors present this book as the first example of ” the essential tools and principles of a preservation management programme in the 21st century – one that addresses the realities of diverse collections and materials and embraces the challenges of working with both analogue and digital collections.”

This being stated, the authors start addressing the different issues related to digital versus analogue and refer to the fact that digitization in the past led to destruction of the related physical objects by assuming that “the information” was saved in the new digital object, a debatable point of view nowadays (see Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold. Libraries and the assault on paper. 2001) . They come with a set of shared preservation principles, for both analogue and digital material.


Four principles describe the context and aims of preservation, amongst which the needs of the user is mentioned (a point of view we also see in the OAIS model) as well as “Preservation is the responsibility of all, from the creators of objects to the users of objects“. A set of 8 general principles focus on “collaboration”, “advocacy, “active, managed care” and the preference for actions “that address large quantities of material over actions that focus on individual objects” [ although this is highly dependent on the value of these objects I would say] . The following principle describes the key of preservation: “Understanding the structure of material is the key to understanding what preservation actions to take, as materials contain the seeds of their own destruction (inherent vice)”.

This set of Preservation principles and practices is the red line for the rest of the book, which contains a wealth of information. I can recommend this book to both the digital and the analogue preservationists, as it will contribute to mutual understanding so desperately needed! And don’t complain about the price (90 dollars) : this book might be expensive, but a one day course is more expensive and almost all the rest you want to know about digital preservation is freely available on the internet!

The preservation management handbook: a 21st-century guide for libraries, archives and museums. [Edited by] Ross Harvey and Martha R. Mahard. Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. ISBN 978-0-7591-2315-1 (also available as e-book)

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