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December 2000


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"A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
"Thomas W. Perrin" <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 4 Dec 2000 18:02:31 -0500
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"A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
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Phil Lord wrote:

> While the stories of how repositories are dealing with surplus newspapers is interesting, I would love to see a down and dirty debate about the values and norms that lie behind the urge to preserve these collections, even when "virtual" versions of them are readily available.
> It may get metaphysical, but do we dare take off the blinders and examine our own culture of collections management, just to see where it goes?

And Tom replies:

No metaphysics at all, just ignorance and arrogance. From my own
collections, I have discovered that my research, acquisition and
de-accession needs have changed radically over the years.  What I once
thought unimportant and of now lasting value, today I would pay big
bucks to have in front of me.  By the same token, much of what I earlier
thought was valuable is common and unimportant for me to retain.

The point is that values and needs change due to differing perceptions
over time. I would have gladly dumped my child's toy of ten years ago in
the dumpster, but golly gee, I just sold it a few days ago on eBay for

I have several problems with microfilm:

1. the microfilm is out of focus
2. the microfilm does not capture data near the gutter of the bound
3. the microfilm has varying degrees of contrast from one end of the
frame to the other
4. the microfilm is scratched from usage
5. the microfilm master is destroyed and first generation copies are no
longer available
6. the microfilm is not in color
7. the microfilm has print-through (print from the reverse side shows
8. the microfilm cannot capture watermarks, recover palimpsests
9. the microfilm cannot be adjusted after filming for polarization,
infra-red or ultra-violet examination
10. the microfilm copy does not have the same reproducible value as a
copy made with a higher quality camera.
10. examination of the microfilm cannot determine authenticity of the
underlying document.
11. He who owns the master film controls the price, accessibility and
availability of the information contained.  Finding out who owns the
master film and who can make copies is somewhat problematical, even
assuming that the master film is available to make copies in the first
place. If the owner of the master film, or any one working for the
owner, has unresolved control issues I may be denied access to the
12. Ownership of any one roll of microfilm does not guarantee access.
If a particular roll is in heavy demand locally, it will not be
available for inter-library loan, or if available, will only be
available for a limited period of time.  The only alternative is to buy
one's own roll.

Now, as to digitization:  the technology used to digitize documents, as
sold by Canon and others for megabucks, actually consists of a low end
digital camera as defined by pixel image, and may only be available in
black and white. It's fine for preserving images at high speed provided
that they are all digitized on exactly the same plane.  That is just
hunky dory for checks or the Congressional Record, but to the archivist
who desires quality equal to the value of the underlying original, it
just ain't good enough.

I prefer my digital or film copies to be hand-crafted, of high quality,
and made by a person who values the end image as highly as he does the
underlying product.  With both digital and film cameras, such care and
quality cannot ever be guaranteed sufficiently to warrant the
destruction of the underlying object. It is more likely, in fact, that
the images when made, will be made by someone who cares very little for
either the final image or the underlying object.

Tom Perrin
East Windsor, NJ