Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Saur October 3, 2016

Surely, We’ll Need Backups

Randy Silverman

Abstract

For 20 years the U. S. Newspaper and Brittle Books Programs focused national resources on a singular approach to preserving acidic paper in research libraries—converting printed “information” to microfilm. In many cases, the original historical material was discarded in the process. This method failed to address the root problem that could have been solved more effectively and more economically through preventive conservation. Such conservation was ignored because an ulterior motive to the brittle books “crisis” was to establish a national digital library. A serious consequence arising from this subterfuge is that today mid-sized research libraries are not committed to—and perhaps fail to comprehend the importance of—preserving their general collections. Collectively these diverse, paper-based collections represent a huge swath of the nation’s historical record. Falsely believing digital media will make paper obsolete, and motivated by a need to create space in libraries, today’s vigorous weeding for non-rare, paper-based general collections threatens to destroy evidence that will be required for research and future digitization projects. These materials will be needed as backups to accurately regenerate screen copies; as master copies to augment, enhance, or correct faulty screen copies; and, as authentication to verify original production techniques and determine provenance. Without careful coordination and item-level verification, today’s isolated weeding practices could eviscerate American general collections with devastating results for future scholarship, repeating the mistakes of the U. S. Newspaper and Brittle Books Programs.

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Published Online: 2016-10-3
Published in Print: 2016-10-1

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