Use the basic concepts and principles related to the creation, evaluation, selection, acquisition, preservation and organization of specific items or collections of information.
What this competency speaks to is an ability to properly manage collections, and the wide myriad of factors that are involved in such a process. A collection is a coherently organized series of records that is created for a specific purpose. Often this purpose is as broad as servicing the recreational and educational reading demands of a public community, but every organization is unique. What is appropriate for one institution is not for another: surely the collection of an archive of Greek apocrypha is clearly delineated from a public library’s collection. Yet both notional libraries are clearly guided by institutional charter, policy and collection development guidelines. It is the information specialist’s task to define the collection, to clearly define it’s purpose, scope and service orientation, and then to select for, prune and preserve it.
A collection also suits a particular community of users. Accordingly the information scientist must labor to understand his patron. This may constitute as walking about the community at large, considering statistics, population studies and the expectations and demands of the demographic. Empathy is crucial: the librarian must consider the plight and desires of those who access the collection, and enhance access points accordingly. An especially elderly community might not benefit from further development of online journals (for more on this: see competency III), while a cutting edge research college might. The economy (and in the case of corporate organizations: financial backing) of an area also dictates what the collection should contain; the patron’s requirements change on the basis of his means. While this may appear as a truism it must be stated that too often a librarian is want to build a collection on subject alone, and may blind himself to the greater relevancy of his records.
To ensure effective access to the collection a coherent scheme of organization should be established, a topic I explore more fully in competency VII to follow. A specialist in this discipline must be capable of being an architect – that is to say envisioning, implementing and planning a collection in accordance to socio-political and economic factors, as well as being an overseer or curator once it is established. My coursework and what I consider to be critical in this topic is the latter: there exists a classical debate in library science between expanded access and sound preservation (or curation). The literature is virtually obsessed with this dilemma, and a continuum of solutions have been proposed ranging from the primacy of preservation, to the essential lifeblood of access and to a middle way. While I am read and experienced on the basic facets of collection management, my work and what I really focus on is preservation because we live in the shadow of unreliable technology which has been christened as immaculate by the pop culture. This I focus on, because this is essential to my vocation.
A miscarriage of understanding or skill concerning preservation will contribute to catastrophes of unprecedented scale. Why? The simple fact that digital media has a lifespan of less than a decade and is the most volatile medium to date (Conway). At initial inquest this seems a red herring, but two conditions of our time push it to the fore: the public increasingly not only favors/expects but demands digital access to records (as records increasingly are born digital), and only recently have coherent digital preservation schemes emerged to manage our digital world of information. And the problems of digital collection management are rarely the focus of our studies, except for a few passionate whistle blowers.
Like those who first spotted the slow fires – there does not appear to be enough widespread focus on the issue of digital preservation as it applies to management of digital collections. One need look no further than the wording of this competency to observe a testament to the current state of our discourse; preservation is often shoehorned aside more pedestrian and static, traditional skills, and lacks its own distinct heading or gravity.
Like my friends and seminal writers on the importance of digital curation, Margaret Hedstrom, Paul Conway and Jeff Rothenberg, I do not subscribe to the idea that preservation is a luxury for choice archives and special repositories and that access trumps all. The nature of contemporary collections is such that preservation of collections must be the focus of our work, as traditional collections are either substantially expanded to digital media or are converted altogether. At the very least we must be cognizant of the volatile nature of digital records and take actions to avert the catastrophes which inevitably spring up from poorly managed digital collections.
Digital preservation takes the wisdom of the archivist and applies it to the realm of computers and the internet: it is not enough simply to “hope for the best” when managing digital collections, as Conway (1996) so succinctly demonstrated. Specifically, digital files if left to their own devices, and without any special efforts taken to maintain them, typically become inoperable within a decade. This is the shortest lifespan of any medium to date, even lower than highly acidic paper (Teygeler). And while highly acidic paper becomes brittle and browns with age, alerting owners of impending deterioration, digital records become corrupt silently and often en masse. In a world in which “born digital” records are becoming the norm, in which analog means of information retrieval and storage are replaced by the electronic, serious attention must be paid to preserving digital data lest the new host of documents detailing our cultural heritage be lost to neglect (Hedstrom).
While at SJSU I have written extensively on collection management, including the myriad of factors included in the competency. While this may be sufficient to understanding the topic, I also have extensive work experience in collection development, having interned at Dubai Women’s College and been involved in collection development and pruning.
The first piece of evidence which demonstrates my ability to manage a collection are some spreadsheets from my time working at Dubai Women’s College. I was asked to develop and suggest withdrawals for the library’s history and education collections. I was allocated $5000 and $1000 respectively to develop the collection. I was given complete autonomy over the collection development and was responsible for researching new records for purchase. I considered access rates, but my prime concern was on subject coverage and completeness. The collection initially had huge gaps in subject coverage; it’s history collection did not have a single record on US history! A brief summary of my work:
1. Analyzing the college library policy and learning goals, and then developing a philosophy of collection development.
2. Conducting research on the patron; the new purchases had to achieve subject coverage of an academic nature whilst still being comprehensible to ESL Arabs. I spent weeks reading studies and histories of the United Arab Emirates, as well as familiarizing myself to their culture in order to best understand the user.
3. Researching the subjects, scouting and analyzing the current collection and determining where major gaps in coverage manifested.
4. Utilizing Bowker’s Book Analysis to locate core titles for purchase, as well as doing independent research in the literature. Each purchase or withdrawal recommendation was annotated with my rationale for action, including a brief statement of purpose of the record within the subject area.
5. Pruning the collection on the basis of outdated subject coverage, poor condition records and low access rates.
As might be clear, my work covered virtually the entire gamut of the competency statement and this work was instrumental in my mastery of collection management. The end state for the Dubai Women’s College was a library with a competent, cutting edge, yet comprehensible history collection and a well expanded education collection with severe gaps in subject coverage filled. As I was given neigh complete freedom with little intervention from my supervisors, I had a substantial amount of influence and power as an intern and thus was fully responsible for the process. My evidence is a xlsx document with four spreadsheets: history purchases, education purchases, history withdrawals and education withdrawals.
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My second piece of evidence is a digital curation journal I furnished for Victoria McCargar’s collection management class. The journal details the creation of a digital repository and is focused on preservation concepts, medium analysis, digital management methodology and theoretical options for ideal management. This document followed the actual creation of a digital archive by students on the basis of cutting edge research, OAIS metadata creation and sustainment protocols. The archive which I created remains active to the time of this writing and features a dark archive, digital preservation plan, automatic backup and automatic file refresh processes. This speaks to my ability to preserve and manage digital collections. In addition to this I also helped develop a digital repository for Yuba College, which I have spoken of elsewhere.
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My third piece of evidence is a paper entitled “Ten Thousand Years to Ten,” also furnished for McCargar’s class. This paper concerns itself with the evolution of the record medium over thousands of years and the conclusions drawn within are centered at my thought when it comes to collection management. Specifically the evolution of media is summarized, as it applies to worthiness as an archival material. The paper claims and demonstrates that current technologies are unsustainable and that in order to progress in the long term efforts must be made to “look back” to ancient times in which our media survived for thousands of years. The conclusions drawn from the research paint an alarming but rigorous picture of digital media, mass market paper and unsustainable technology dependence, all factors which must be considered as a manager and creator of collections and as an information specialist in general. This paper also highlights some notable digital obsolescence and corruption catastrophes in the news, which I allude to in this competency statement.
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My fourth piece of evidence has to do once more with my work at Dubai Women’s College. While my 1st piece of evidence refers to my ability to develop collections, this work concerns itself with evaluating collections and patron communities. “Collection and Community Analysis at Dubai Women’s College” is a thorough overview of the culture and statistical history of the patron, as well as an overview of the collection, with an emphasis on proposed expansions, issues and opportunities. The paper was furnished for Wayne Disher’s collection management class and demonstrates my ability to fully comprehend the scope and purpose of a collection, and the users who access it.
While this is my last formal piece of evidence, there are numerous other pieces of evidence included elsewhere in this portfolio which in summation with the ones presented above demonstrate my mastery of the competency. You will find elsewhere in this portfolio a comparison of collection development policies, a community study (which could be interpreted to understand the users of a collection) an analysis on the viability of expanding electronic journal access, and commentaries on the nature of the digital collection at large, to name a few. While I focus on digital preservation as I consider it to be the preeminent issue of our times, I have also written and worked extensively on all aspects of collection management, which I hope to have illustrated here.
Dubai Women’s College Collection Development Spreadsheet (.xlsx document)
Digital Curation Journal (.PDF)
Ten Thousand Years to Ten (.PDF)
Paul Conway, “Preservation in the Digital World,” The Commission on Preservation and Access NewsletterNumber 88 (1996).
Margaret Hedstrom, “Digital Preservation: A Time Bomb for Digital Libraries,” Computers and the Humanities Volume 31, Number 3 (1997): 189-202.
Jeffrey van der Hoeven, “Dioscuri: emulator for digital preservation,” D-Lib Magazine Volume 13 Number 11/12 (2007), http://www.dlib.org/dlib/november07/11inbrief.html
James O’Toole, “On the Idea of Permanence,” American Archivist 52 (Winter 1989).
Rene Teygeler, Managing preservation for libraries and archives: current practice and future developments (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), 83-86.