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We've Moved!

Cromwell Communication Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MUW Archives has switched its office to 231 Cromwell Communication Center. While the transfer of files from Orr continues, Cromwell is now the place to go to visit the archives and speak with the staff. Our phone is currently being switched over, but we expect to keep the same number, and of course our email, website and Facebook page will not be changing.

A big "howdy neighbor" to our new neighbors on 10th St. S and 6th Ave. S!

Preservation Week Day 5: Digital Preservation

 

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When people think about preservation, it's usually in terms of physical objects. The conservation usually revolves around acid-free folders and polyester sleeves and pest control. More and more of our vital information and treasured images, video and audio, however, exist purely as zeros and ones on a silicon disc in our computer or out in the cloud somewhere. Imagine for a moment what would happen to you if your email service went out of business tomorrow? What information would you lose? What account information? What about if your hard drive died tomorrow?

 

Threats to Digital Holdings

Digital materials, whether digitized (things you have copied into digital format) or born digital (information originally created in digital form), are subject to numerous dangers just as physical objects are, even if some of the threats themselves are different. One of the most common is the damage, destruction, or loss of the storage medium, i.e., the hard drive, disc, or website it is stored on. Hard drives rarely last more than 5 years these days, and the life expectancy of a DVD that gets normal use is only 2 to 5 years.

Not only do storage media decay rapidly, but they also become obsolete at regular intervals. Consider how many different types of storage media we have used just in your lifetime; I myself have stored information on DVDs, CDs, SD cards, microSD cards, zip disks, flash drives, 3.5 floppy disks, 5 1/4 floppy disks, 8 in. floppy disks, cassette tapes, vinyl records, laser disks, and more. Meanwhile, the baby of the bunch, the Blu ray disk, is already showing signs of steep decline in use.

Moreover, it isn't just the storage medium that goes obsolete; file formats do, too. Later versions of file formats are only backwards-compatible to a few versions back, so if you have a file saved an Excel 1.0 spreadsheet, MS Office 2013 cannot read it. Other file types can disappear entirely if the company that created it goes out of business.

It is for these reasons that there is an adage in archives management: "digitization is not preservation." While digitization is great for copying a file, for increasing access to a file, and for saving space, a single file is in much greater danger in digital form than in hard copy due to the extremely short lifespan of storage media, file formats, and computer hardware.

 

Tips for Preserving Digital Records

The keys to effective digital preservation are frequent updating and duplication. Keeping your files updated to current standards will keep them from falling prey to obsolescence, while duplication will protect them from dying hardware. As preparation for both of these tactics, you need to identify your valuable digital holdings and locate them. That means not just the files on your computer, but also on all of the disks and drives and tapes in your home or office. Once you have them all rounded up, decide which ones you want to preserve and target those.

Keeping your files updated means saving them in the new file format whenever you get a new version of a particular software. For instance, when you acquire the next version of Microsoft Office, you should open all of your Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations, etc. and save them in the most recent version. Check after you do to make sure the file still functions and has all of the information how you want it. Some files may need to be migrated to new file types, as fans of WordPerfect lament, or moved to a different storage medium if the one they are on is old or being harder to find in stores. On top of that, you'll want to check your files every year or so. It isn't a bad idea to make a habit of associating a particular event, such as Christmas vacation or Tax Day, with checking your files to make sure they still open and haven't lost any information. Then, every five years or so, you'll want to replace their storage medium and create a new copy to save on it so you don't lose them to a dead disk or thumb drive.

There is a trick to updating files, though: sometimes you lose information in the process. This is particularly true of compressed file types like .jpg as opposed to files that don't compress or that use "lossless" compression, like .tif. Some types have certain advantages despite not lasting as long as well. Consider that the .pdf format is designed for stability (in fact, the PDF/A format is the one favored by archivists), where the .docx format of Microsoft Word allows for easy editing.

Duplication, the second part of preservation, means creating as many places in as many different formats in as many different places as you're willing to keep track of. The sudden destruction of your house in a natural disaster won't cost you your files if they are also stored in the cloud, or in a safe deposit box downtown. The obsolescence of your preferred storage medium isn't as painful if you also have your files on another medium. Your preferred cloud storage company going out of business won't cost you if you also keep your files stored on local disks.  Speaking of cloud storage, it is a great way to ensure the preservation of your files, but before you choose a company, you should actually read that wall of legalese text they asked to agree on before using them. Sometimes transferring files to a company means giving up some of your rights to privacy and to complete control over those files.

That's our series on preserving your treasured records and other information for Preservation Week. We hope you have found some useful information here and used it to consider ways to better protect your records. It's in all our interest, from archives and museums down to individuals and families, to preserve the records of our cultural heritage.

Sources

Digital Preservation Workshop

Library of Congress, Personal Archiving

Preservation Week Day 4: Textiles

 

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Today for Preservation Week we will talk about ways to keep your precious textiles safe. Here we are referring to your clothes, sure, your wedding dresses and baby clothes, but also quilts, many of which have sentimental value and are kept for multiple generations. Flags are included here, too, and rugs and tapestries, some of which can be quite valuable. The same general principles apply as with paper records and photographs/scrapbooks, although textiles often involve a few additional challenges.

 

Threats to Textile Lifespan

We're starting to sound like a broken record here: heat, humidity, light are your three main enemies in preservation as with other materials. Light fades colors and embrittles organic fibers. Heat and humidity accelerate the decomposition process, while additionally humidity encourages mold and pest infestation. Along with high levels of heat and humidity, rapidly fluctuating levels of them also damage textiles over time. Dust is also a problem, as it abrades the cloth and dust mites are food for other pests.

Unlike with many of the other materials we have discussed, textiles tend to see frequent use. As one can imagine, this means your treasured quilts and rugs are often exposed to a number of damaging agents -- food and drinks, tobacco smoke, pet hair, and many other things to boot! It is of course important to minimize exposure to these things as much as possible.

 

Cleaning

It should first be noted that you should not attempt to clean antique textiles on your own, nor should you send them to any normal laundry service, as they likely won't know how to clean it safely, either. Consult a professional conservator to find a safer course of action. Textiles that are not antique, but still precious should be dry cleaned with a service that is especially trustworthy with fragile materials. Consider contacting local bridal stores to see who they go to for their dry cleaning needs, as such an outfit is likely experienced in dealing with expensive and fragile textiles. The National Park Service has a handy guide on things to consider when looking to have a precious textile cleaned.

Vacuuming cloth items can sometimes be done safely with a low power hand-held vacuum. Vacuum through a screen or pantyhose to minimize the danger of the suction tearing the cloth.

In case of insect or mold infestation, there is a trick few people consider: freezing. While this trick is particularly well-suited to textile preservation, it can also sometimes be done with other materials as well (tip: it's a good idea to ask an expert before attempting this to make sure it won't harm whatever you're trying to save). Thorough guidelines can be found at the Textile Museum website, but essentially it involves wrapping the cloth tightly in polyethylene, depositing it in a chest freezer for a week, letting it thaw, unwrapping it, and thoroughly cleaning it.

 

Storage

Textiles present some additional problems in terms of storage. More than other items, textiles tend to be stored directly on unvarnished wooden shelves. Remember on Tuesday when we discussed about the wood pulp in paper is naturally acidic? Unpulped wood has the same acids and will damage cloth left in contact with it for too long. If the cloth must be stored on wood, the wood should be varnished with a polyurethane finish to block the transfer of acids, or else the cloth should be boxed.

Generally speaking, it is best to store textiles flat and unfolded. The uneven weight distribution of hanging will stretch the fibers and change the shape of the item over time, and folds can become permanent creases. Acid-buffered tissue can be placed between items and the items stowed in archival boxes. Of course, flat, unfolded storage is not practical, in which case it is better to roll the item around a support tube, interleave it with acid-buffered tissue, and cover with muslin.

Sources

The Textile Museum, Guidelines for the Care of Textiles

The Textile Museum, Pestbusters

Minnesota Historical Society, Clothing and Textiles

National Park Service, Conserve O Gram 16-02

 

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