My colleague, Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator, MIT Libraries presented this talk as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series. Jana is an is an expert in physical preservation, having worked in the preservation field for 15 years as a conservator, consultant, and teaching professional. at the US National Archives, the United Nations, the Vatican Secret Archives — and now we are pleased to have her at MIT.
In her talk, below, Jana discusses two research projects to preserve artifactual knowledge in MIT Libraries’ special collections — including work to reengineer ‘letterlocking’ methods and the broken spines of historical books.
A number of themes ran through Jana’s presentation:
- To conserve physical objects requires ensuring that their integrity is maintained for access and interpretation:
- Effective conservation may require applied research to reengineer the original processes used to produce historical works, in order to understand what information was conveyed by choice of that process.
Reflecting on Jana’s talk, I see connections between her physical conservation research and information science more generally…
The information associated with a work is not simply that embedded within it, although the embedded information is often the focus when creating digital surrogates — both digital and physical may carry with them information about their method of production, provenance, security, authenticity, history of use, and affordances of use. It is useful to model each of these types of information, even if one chooses not to spend equal amounts of effort in capturing each.
Second, new fabrication technologies, such as 3-D printing, are making the boundaries between physical and digital more permeable. Patrons may learn of the affordances of a work through a fabricated surrogate, for example. Furthermore, the scanning and digitization processes that are being used in association with rapid fabrication may also be used in conservation practice as part of the reengineering process — Jana’s presentation describes working with researchers at MIT to do just this…
Finally, collaboration with educational and research users is increasingly important in understanding the potential for information associated with each work, and thus to guide selection and conservation in order to create of a portfolio of works that is likely to be of future educational and research value. As in digital curation, we can’t offer access to everything, for everyone, forever — so modeling the information associated with its work, and its future uses, is critical to making rational decisions.