Preservation & Librarianship, an inquiry

Throughout this week’s reading I found myself contemplating preservation in ways that I had never considered when I was just a reader. With Sheffield’s (2016) “More than acid-free folders: extending the concept of preservation to include the stewardship of unexplored histories,” I began to wonder if any parameters or guidance for weeding texts with the principle of stewardship had been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Creating the kind of space for social justice work that librarians and archivists hope to achieve is nevertheless much more complicated than simply broadening the collecting scope to integrate as much material as possible from previously underrepresented groups. As cultural theorist Roderick Ferguson (2012) explains, absorbing minority archives into the university creates a representational politic that might prove its progressive credentials, but this integration does not challenge any real power structures within the institution. In other words, just because a university preserves unexplored history does not mean that it is ready to acknowledge or confront any of the structural inequalities that exist in order to create the conditions in which that history remains unexplored to begin with. Preservation of unexplored history cannot take place if systems of power are also preserved.

The duty to steward unexplored history is therefore much more than a return to the simple task of ensuring that records are kept from harm; stewardship does not in fact necessarily mean pulling records out of the barn, but rather working with the community to ensure that the barn is a safe place for these materials. It may also mean offering professional expertise and institutional resources to a community when the barn is not a safe place, even if there are no expectations that the records should come under institutional custody. As a Core Value and a core duty for information professionals, this extended concept of Preservation as a duty to steward requires deeper thinking about the power relationships that exist among and between underrepresented or underserviced groups and the librarians and archivists who serve them. That is, information professionals must begin to think more critically about how to work with communities to ensure that documentary evidence is preserved, and to think less about how to add it to their collections. There must also be some recognition that community archivists and librarians are under considerable pressure to hand over their collections to satisfy an institutional mandate to build more representative collections, and many will resist this practice of “swallowing up.” The duty to steward must therefore include a commitment to develop a sympathetic understanding of the reasons why particular record creators remain autonomous, and a respect for this political principle even if their records remain in peril. Keeping records from harm may in fact mean keeping them out of the hands of those never meant to explore them. This contradictory aspect of stewardship will take some adjustment for those practitioners unwilling to challenge the assumption that “all information wants to be free.” It does not; some history is unexplored because its creators want it to remain that way. Information professions must also respect this condition of preservation.

Rebecka T. Sheffield

In Teper’s (2014) “Selection for preservation: a survey of current practices in the field of preservation”, I found myself baffled by how 42% of librarians spend 3-5 minutes considering the best practice criteria and I was further baffled by how 69% felt there was little to no reason to closely check the digitized copies’ condition. How much information has been lost? What, if anything, can be done to recover it? Well, let me tell you that the next article “Learning from failure: The case of the disappearing website” (Barone, 2015) did not ease my worries in the least! So, what can we do? What literature has been published in regards to digital preservation that holds the tenants of stewardship? Especially those cited in the quote above. I am also interested in looking into the digitization of primary sources relating to members of the autistic spectrum. I’m aware of several archives dedicated to lgbtqiqa+ voices such as Herstory, One Archive, Lavender Library, and Victorian Queer Archive, but I haven’t encountered any archived neuroatypical voices.

In my exploration the existing body of literature, I was able to find an article outlining the latest updates from the Digital Preservation Task Force that was set up by NASIG. The NASIG set up the Digital Preservation Task Force in hopes of preventing the loss of invaluable information (Keller, 2019). From reading the session update I found out the the NASIG had created a registry in order to track whether an archive has been backed up sufficient time to be not at risk of disappearing.

The Keepers Registry defines three as a healthy number of copies to prevent a site from being in danger of being lost. While that might seem like an easy goal to achieve, a quick look at The Keepers Registry will show you that it isn’t. Whether it be due to financial constraints, lack of administrative support, or a myriad of other reasons, websites aren’t getting archived. I’ve screenshot two examples of websites that may be at risk of being lost according to The Keepers Register’s parameters.

The Digital Preservation Task Force has also created a 101 Guide to Digital Preservation that serves as a decent start guide to digital preservation for librarians (“NASIGuide: Digital”, 2018). It can be accessed through the link below.

Information specialists have come to the conclusion that the maintenance of information is not solely the responsibility of libraries. We see this in many of this week’s lectures and it is also echoed in the Digital Preservation Task Force update (Keller, 2019). So, what can libraries and publishers do to combat this problem? Well, here’s a quote with some of the session updates suggestions.

Robertson suggested several ways librarians and publishers can work to solve these problems. First, all involved parties can identify gaps and work collectively to fill them. Part of this process includes amplifying the smaller voices—small institutions, small publishers, and so on. Robertson explained that many large publishers have undertaken significant digital preservation in the past few years, largely due to encouragement from librarians, so now is the time to focus on smaller publishers. Many of the aforementioned resources created by the Task Force are meant to assist with this process, such as the “Talking Points and Questions to Ask Publishers About Digital Preservation” resource. Next, digital preservation efforts need to be expanded globally. More attention needs to be given to content published outside of North America and the United Kingdom. International collaboration is already occurring between publishers, libraries, and third-party organizations, and that collaboration can be leveraged to increase preservation of resources published by less well-represented countries and regions. Finally, library publishing and Open Access resources need to be included in these conversations. This is an area where librarians can and should push for preservation of their library’s publications and local Open Access resources. Robertson emphasized that for all of these opportunities for improvement, acquisitions and
e-resources librarians can play an important role in communicating preservation priorities to publishers, especially during license negotiations. To combat these challenges and gaps, Robertson suggested librarians and publishers collaboratively build preservation policies that are explicit, intentional, and transparent. A good preservation policy outlines a long-term commitment to preserve resources, clarifies what should be preserved, and allows for evolution of details to account for changes in the industry. Librarians can help encourage publishers to build these policies and include them in site licenses.

Shannon Regan Keller

As for my attempts to see if there were any archives dedicated to voices on the autistic spectrum, well, thus far it has been unsuccessful. As I am fairly new to querying databases in a thorough way, I may be using the incorrect search terms to pull up relevant information. Even when trying to mine a list of historical figures who may I been autistic, I see one ongoing thematic. Most of those who are associated with being autistic in a way that pleases society and thus is of note enough to be documented are white-passing, if not white men. Some of them are of note enough that I am sure that their papers have been acquired and archived. The one exception I see on reoccurring lists, who isn’t contemporary, is Emily Dickinson. It is arguable though, that Dickinson was reclusive due to the stigma associated with epilepsy and not due to potential autistic traits. One should note, however, that women on the autistic spectrum are correlated with a higher likelihood of also being epileptic (Thomas, 2017). Regardless of Dickson being on the autistic spectrum, there is a lack of inclusion of autistic voices in historical sources. Furthermore, I have been able to find no record of people on the autistic spectrum who aren’t of European-descent. Being on the autistic spectrum isn’t exclusive to any given race and ethnic group. Certainly, the majority of the literature on autistic spectrum disorder has centered around white males and present researchers are having trouble accounting for the exponential high occurrence in white males (Thomas, 2017). This increase occurrence may be further complicated by misdiagnosis of people of color and provider biases. Ultimately, the lack of inclusion of works by folks on the autistic spectrum in the historical narrative demonstrates that what is being archived is still framed by what is held up as important by the archivists and by society at large.


Barone, F.; Zeitlyn, D.; Majer-Schönberger, V. (2015). Learning from failure: The case of the disappearing website. First Monday 20(5). 

Brown, Julie. (2009) Writers on the Spectrum :How Autism and Asperger Syndrome have Influenced Literary Writing London : Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Durkin, M.; Maenner, M.; Baio, J.; Christensen, D.; Daniels, J.; Fitzgerald, R.; Imm, P.; Li-Ching, L.; Schieve, L.; Van Naarden Braun, K.; Wingate, M.; Yeargin-Allsopp, M. (2017). Autism Spectrum Disorder Among US Children (2002-2010): Socioeconomic, Racial, and Ethnic Disparities. American Journal of Public Health107(11), 1818–1826.

Thomas, S.; Hovinga, M.; Raj, D.; Lee, B. (2017). Brief Report: Prevalence of Co-occurring Epilepsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder: The U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health 2011-2012Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders (Vol. 47, pp. 224–229).

Keller, S.R.; Robertson, W.; Steinle K.; Thibault, D.R. (2019). Digital Preservation Task Force Update, The Serials Librarian, 76:1-4, 51-54.

Sheffield, R. T. (2016). More than acid-free folders: extending the concept of preservation to include the stewardship of unexplored histories. Library Trends 64(3): 572-584.

Teper, J. H. (2014). Selection for preservation: a survey of current practices in the field of preservation. Library Resources & Technical Services 58(4): 220-232.