What are Preservation and Conservation Technologies?

As long as there have been museums, their mission has been to preserve and conserve our collective cultural heritage. Preservation refers to the protection of important objects, artifacts, and documents; conservation is the science of maintaining objects in as close to their original form as possible. As technology evolves, archivists and conservators have encountered a steady stream of new challenges in both of these tasks. Digital objects can be as delicate as ancient objects, requiring special care, and changing technologies puts these digital items at great risk. Cultural works that are time-based add a level of complexity in the quest for preservation, due to the added consideration of the artist's intent, or context, or movement. Understanding and preserving how media is intended to be experienced while maintaining the integrity of its cultural identity encompasses a number of a considerations such as conservation ethics, legal agreements, availability of mechanical and/or digital materials, and historical scholarship. While museums have long employed specialists in artifact preservation, today new professionals are needed who understand digital and time-based media, and can address preservation and conservation challenges not only from physical, but artistic, cultural, engineering, electronic, and other multi-disciplinary perspectives.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • It would be difficult to overstate the importance of digital preservation and conservation to museums. Other technologies on the Horizon list will come and go, but the need for preservation of digital/time-based/variable materials (both from technological and methodological standpoints) will only ever increase. - Koven Koven Oct 25, 2014 +1 - dhegley dhegley Nov 3, 2014 - rdowden rdowden Nov 5, 2014
  • I agree with the statement made above. Although this topic has been noted in previous Horizon Reports, it continues to be a significant challenge for museums. - CReich CReich Nov 2, 2014
  • Digital objects are far more fragile and endangered than any other kind of object that museums bother to collect. Any old has been around FAR longer than anything digital we are likely to care about. And let's face the fact: as we move increasingly towards using digital devices as our exclusive memory aid of choice, we put at risk our capacity to remember, as a culture, who we are and what we have been. We don't print our photos, we "archive" them. Right. Same with text, video, you name it. But the hardware and software is not durable, really, and the tech industry has no stake in making anything last. I asked a former VP at Adobe about this, and he said that the problem is, unless things go out of date, they can't make money. It's true, logical. And it's called capitalism. But why isn't there a market big enough to create a viable way to make money creating stable digital formats and at least some hardware meant to last? I'd pay Apple prices for that, Mercedes, maybe even Tesla.... Hey. Is this a topic for the meet up the NMC is planning in Janurary (?) in Austin. - weberj weberj Nov 3, 2014
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

- AHelmreich AHelmreich Oct 24, 2014Related to this topic is the issue of digital forensics. For example, the Harry Ransom Center, dedicated, in part, to preserving creative writing, is now collecting the oeuvre of writers who worked solely in the computer age. These files contain traces of the working process- changes over time. Scholars from MITH at the University of Maryland have worked with the HRC to excavate these traces. One can imagine the same process for digital works of art, games etc. How to preserve change over time? +1 - Koven Koven Oct 25, 2014
  • I would add the almost complete lack of training programs for conservators looking to work with digital objects. This is a gaping hole in museum practice right now, as more and more of these types of objects are being acquired, without there being any real knowledge of how to keep them running. - Koven Koven Oct 25, 2014 I agree! With the pace of technological development, it's an overwhelming task for museums to not only keep up with the trends in which educational tools to offer, but also how to preserve the devices, media, and digital content on them. - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Oct 27, 2014 I also agree--there is a distinct lack of conservators who are trained to assist museums with digital preservation and there are scores of museums that have created or acquired these materials with no long term plan for their preservation and care. There is much to be learned from the library sector in this arena and efforts to create academic programs for "cultural heritage professionals" are a step in the right direction. - CReich CReich Nov 2, 2014
  • Given what's been written, one area of risk is the determination of responsibility for preservation. Born-digital works seem to fall outside the purview of traditional museum practices and structures. Does IT hold the core files? Does Registration? Who makes back up copies? How are those stored and backed up? What if the agreement with the artist doesn't allow for back ups? What do we do in ten years when every single technology used to display the work is no longer available? Who is figuring this out? Etc. Noting this on the Horizon Report is important; finding concrete steps forward is even more important. - dhegley dhegley Nov 3, 2014
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • IMLS recently funded a grant to George Mason University that may have relevance to this question:
    George Mason University's Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) will partner with Ideum and the University of
    Connecticut's Digital Media Center (UConn DMC) to develop "Omeka Everywhere," a set of software packages including mobile and touch table applications and collections viewer templates, which will improve museums' collection accessibility to visitors by offering a simple, cost-effective solution for connecting onsite web content and in-gallery multisensory experiences. "Omeka Everywhere" will streamline the
    workflows for creating and sharing digital content with online and onsite visitors, demonstrate how institutions of all sizes and budgets
    can implement next-generation computer exhibit elements into current and new exhibition spaces, and empower smaller museums to rethink what is possible to implement on a shoestring budget. - CReich CReich Nov 2, 2014
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • One of the most exciting projects in this area is called Colloq, which was developed by Rhizome (affiliated with the New Museum). Colloq is designed to preserve social media sites in their original interactive forms, rather than as screenshots or downloads of source code. They recently received a grant from the Knight Foundation to continue developing this. If it works as advertised, it has the potential to really open up the web as both a collecting and preservation area for museums. - Koven Koven Oct 25, 2014
  • The obvious, and perhaps most exciting, project in this area is Cooper-Hewitt's acquisition of Planetary. The methodologies being developed there will undoubtedly influence the way these kinds of (code-based) objects are acquired and preserved in the future. - Koven Koven Oct 25, 2014
  • Library of Congress programs:http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/; IMLS funded project:
    http://digitalpreservation.ncdcr.gov/; the Yale project is interesting to see how a diverse organization (with many arms/needs) is addressing this issue:
    http://ydc2.yale.edu/content%20platform/digital-preservation. - AHelmreich AHelmreich Nov 2, 2014
  • A recent IMLS grant to the Balboa Park Online Collaborative will develop and implement an independent museum cloudback-up solution for digitized and born-digital objects, using high-speed educational networks and a cooperative data storage strategy. The project is expected to result in dissemination of best practices and advance national conversations about the long-term preservation of our nation's most significant digital archives, helping prepare museums to quickly restore information, security, and other data dependent services that allow them to communicate with and serve their visitors and to protect these valuable assets. - CReich CReich Nov 2, 2014