Sunday, April 24, 2005

Global Record (Conference)

Conference on Preserving the Global Record, Luce Hall, March 24-26, 2005. Highlights: Jonathan Spence's keynote address (see below). David Germano on the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (see below); and Don Waters' remarks on key challenges facing higher education: (1) critical materials from overseas are not being collected comprehensively enough to sustain research in the U.S. ; (2) source materials in new formats are emerging rapidly, and strategies to conserve these are inadequate. Recommends forthcoming book: Equity and excellence (?), on U.S. education trends, state of humanities, etc. Also worried about science and engineering education. U.S. seemingly in decline. While South Korea now has 11 science and engineering degrees for every 100 persons, U.S. has only 5.5/100. Much of Asia, Britain and Europe have surpassed us. This not necessarily a problem, but he mentioned that 30% of science and engineering degrees in US given to foreign students.

Jonathan Spence, Sterling Professor of History and current President of the American Historical Association, gave keynote address, describing pleasures of his own archival research, and speculating about new challenges. He was researching 1911 Chinese revolution via London's Office of Public Records. Mentored as student by Mary Wright. Recalls pleasure of physically handling artifacts, and seeing for himself how only the emperor was allowed to comment in vermillion ink, while the ordinary scribes wrote in black ink exclusively. Spence posed over-arching questions: "What constitutes an archive?" Not just text, also realia, maps, paintings, etc., and we can't save everything. Who will pay for storage space? Danger of turning into a Borges short story. Also concerned about "technology of circulation" and providing "finding aids to finding aids". Should archives ever be "culled" or trimmed"? Should one ever be sold, and if so, to whom? What about archival dispersal? Again, concern with preserving original artifacts, last Chinese dynasty (Ching) 1644-1912, records in Manchu language, now a dead langauge, and all imperial records translated into Han, but historians still need to check accuracy of traslations, etc.

David Germano, Director of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library at University of Virginia. His project seems like excellent model for Yale to follow, where Library operates at nexus of international multimedia information commons. Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library includes font support and development and Unicode components, uses FEDORA (
Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture) protocol. Laments compartmentalism of university work: disconnectedness from local and international communities.

Graham Shaw
head of Asia Pacific and Africa collections at
British Library. Conducting research on history of book in Southeast Asia. Concerned that library-scholar tradition is vanishing and ought to be revived. Wants us to think more about libraries collaborating with museums and galleries, viewing 3d objects along side more traditional 2-dimensional ones.

IFLA: UBC and UAP as two fundamental long-term goals, perhaps never fully realizable: universal bibliographic control, universal access to publications. Need to work in coalitions. Global Resources Network example of one that works.

Endangered Archives Program
started at British Library, trying to foment closer international ties. Sponsored by Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund (do not invite applications, they come to you, don't want you to come to them). Run in liaison with Prof Barry Supple, LRCF Principal Academic Consultant; and former head of Leerhulme Trust (major research grant-giving body in the UK). 10 million pound program to extend of 8-10 years; two principle objectives: "To contribute to the preservation of mankind's documentary heritage ...

Why endangered archives, see UNESCO Memory of the World Programme: "Documentary heritage reflects the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures, it is the mirror of the world and its memory. But this memory is fragile. Every day irreplaceable parts of this memory disappear for ever." This describes Shaw's mission as well. ICA: Archives are fundamental to ensuring the survival of truth, memory and justice." (ICA). Perhaps most insidious threat "McDonaldisation" of world culture".

Objectives to be achieved through annual awards of research grants (up to 50,000 pounds max. usually) to individual researchers or librarians/archivists to locate significant collections, arrange their transfer to a suitable local archival home, make copies (microfilm or digital), and deliver those copies to the British Library). Preservation is done thought surrogate creation, not through conservation of originals. "It is an operating principle of EAP that no original archival material should leave its home country" How Can You Help? Principal problem for program now is getting itself known, so spreading the word is very helpful. Also interested in hearing about hitherto unknown endangered archives.

Also chatted with Barbara McFadden Allen, director of Committee on Institutional Cooperation; Dinner speaker was David Stam, former director of NYPL research libraries, speaking on scholar-librarian collaboration.

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