Click, Rip, Print, or Burn - How Can We Preserve Our Society's Records

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Syllabus for class taught by M. Scott Simkins, Head Conservator, Family History Library; at the FGS Conference 2010

As a conservator, preserving records is my passion. My expertise is in books and paper, so what business do I have talking about digitization? Quite simply, digitization is a form of preservation which libraries are moving toward rapidly. Consequently, I have been compelled to learn about this technology, and though digital longevity is uncertain, there are several reasons you should make the digital world part of your conservation plan. I positively profess that I am not a digital guru. Hopefully this will comfort others in the room who aren’t either, so I will likely be able to speak in simple terms that we will all understand. By the end of this presentation, I plan to arm you with basic skills for handling and prepping your items for scanning, as well as educate you on methods for storing your originals. Additionally, I will leave you with my perspective of digital dilemmas and propose ways to deal with them.


One of the best conservation reasons for embracing digitization is that the public can study a digital version to their heart’s content and never touch the original.

Handling[edit | edit source]
  • Clean hands or gloves
  • Proper way to remove books from shelves
  • Food and drink–stains and brings pests (bugs and rodents)
  • Items to avoid using
-Stickers (tapes) and sticky notes
-Paperclips, pins, bookmarks etc.
-Use safe removal methods (polypropylene sheets or careful prying)
Storage[edit | edit source]
  • Environment
-Relative Humidity
-Light levels
  • Storage Furniture
-Baked enamel: good if properly baked
-Powder coatings; seem to eliminate off-gassing from the paint
-Anodized aluminum; good but expensive
-Chrome-plated steel; good for boxed materials
-Wood; coated with water-borne polyurethane (recommend allowed to cure 3-4 weeks)
-Barriers: shelves, drawers, etc. can be lined with inert barrier materials like what?
  • Housing (archival enclosures)
-Folders, envelopes, sleeves
-Photo albums
-Purchasing archival supplies
-Gaylord Bros.—
-Metal Edge—
  • Paper repair
  • Web resources
Preservation information[edit | edit source]


  • Digital preservation problems
-Data loss (bit rot)
  • Hard drive crash
  • Obsolescence
  • Software
  • Media
  • File format
-Data overload (too much information to effectively preserve)


  • Limit what you save
-If you have too much to preserve, you end up preserving nothing.
-With technology making it so easy, we save way more photographic, video, and audio information than ever before. We save more than anyone in the future is going to be able to view.
-To improve the likelihood of preservation, we need to learn to weed out the unnecessary and save an amount of data that is small enough to be manageable but large enough to adequately represent our lives.
-Methods for doing this:
-Weed out photographs.
-Scrapbook or use online printable book services.
-Edit videos of events down to 10 minute representations of the event (think of a news story).
  • Organize what you save
-Use the “folders” on your computer the same way you would a filing cabinet in your home.
-There are a number of programs available for organizing photographs.


Current options:

-Magnetic (obsolescing)
-Optical (5 years)
-Hard drive
- Flash memory
  • Store in two or more forms of media (LOCKSS)
-For example = DVD and DAT (Digital Audio Tape), OR computer hard drive and online storage, (multiple external hard drives placed in various geographical areas), etc.
  • Audit regularly
-File formats evolve.
-Media formats evolve.