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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]>
"Joseph A. Cutshall-King" <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 5 Dec 2000 22:48:26 -0500
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"A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
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To Phil:

"Thomas W. Perrin" wrote:

> 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?

Thomas Perrin's use of the phrase "underlying object" pinpoints the fundamental difference in viewing the supposedly disposable's being copied. His sentence, "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," shows to the difference between a "museum" mentality -- of which I am gladly guilty -- and, for lack of a better phrase, an "information seeker's" mentality. Of which I am also gladly guilty. Take the 1850-1900 set of Harper's magazines being touted
for salvage on this site. For the information seeker, the magazines in and of themselves are duplicates. The information they contain is microfilm-able, scan-able, whatever. And then they could be disposed of. But the question for a museum mind is this: is there thought of the
"object" before its destruction, that is, a consideration of the Harper's as "artifact," for they are as much artifact as information-delivery system.

The curator would say, yes, they are a duplicate. Yes, the information value is able to be transferred through copy. But what of the consideration of the artifacts as bearer of a societal art form, and consideration of the time period in which the objects were made. Regarding the
first, the cuts of the many artists represented in Harper's are of more value "in the flesh" so to speak. There is no other way they can be seen and appreciated as fully as "live," if you'll excuse the term. Even sliced from the page, they lose something of the context, a great
deal of it in fact. On the page and in view, it is more scintillating to see something like the 1886 Harper's with unauthorized engravings of Stoddard photographs (i.e. images stolen from Stoddard photos and made into engravings). But this is a view from someone who views the
medium itself as having the same importance as the information it carries. To paraphrase the "Great Marshall" the medium itself is half the message.

Certainly budgets and space and the question of triage make the second consideration of the time period in which the objects were made very relevant. In preserving the newspaper, the question has to be asked, "What is left from that period?" Too often, we think of the span from
1850 to 1900 giving us, certainly, vast quantities of printed matter unlike anything seen before. But the number of printed artifacts produced was relatively finite compared to the production level of the 20th century, and is now limited because of the casual destruction that took
place almost simultaneously with their production. Especially as a population quickly learned the cheapness and disposability of paper so easily made.

If the sole purpose of saving the printed materials in discussion were for the information, then a quick and dirty copy or microfilm or whatever would suffice. But in the older materials, I don't think that's all there is to it.

And even if, in the end, it simply boils to money dictating that we'll have copies and nothing more, this writer/historian still has not seen any evidence that the microform media so cherished to do that job is any more durable than the crumbling newspapers it's been sent to

Phil, I would love to see a down and dirty debate about the values and norms that lie behind the almost religious fervor of those who have come to think that the phrase "virtual copy" means "permanent copy."

> 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
> $415!
> 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
> volume
> 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
> through)
> 8. the microfilm cannot capture watermarks, recover palimpsests
> (erasures)
> 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
> information.
> 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

Joseph A. Cutshall-King
Grant Writing/Fund Raising Services
  Associate of Charles R. Putney, Development Services for Nonprofits; Bennington, VT

PO Box 154
693 County Route 49
Cossayuna, NY 12823

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