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Subject: Book conservation and ethics

Book conservation and ethics

From: Gary Frost <70703.104>
Date: Monday, April 18, 1994
I enjoyed Pete Jermann's comments on book conservation ethics. I agree
with his emphasis that the artifactual characteristics of library
collections are of secondary importance.

The implication is that an ethic of artifactual preservation cannot be
the basis for the practice of library collections conservation. The
basis may be with the preservation of content.

The "object" of a library collections conservator has always been
disembodied from single books and documents in the sense that his
important objective is the conservation of the organized composite of
the collection. It must also be acknowledged that to most readers single
books and documents are containers that they disregard as they study the
contents of a library.

Now it is evident that library collections can be further disembodied as
content is created, archived and accessed electronically. If the library
is no longer a "place', then the books are no longer "objects". Such
increasing virtuality is apparent in all media, and paper based
collections will not escape this new status. Already library users
prefer to use books as sources for photocopies, as machine read rather
than eye read sources. Other trends in seclusion, conversion or discard
of paper based collections point to a focus on disembodied content.

An ethical challenge emerges in the continuing role of originals, in
relation to their copies, but not with the continuing preservation of
artifacts in isolation. For example, the library conservator may be
acting ethically to produce a surrogate, a usable copy of a deteriorated
book. In this action a library conservator could conserve content while
destroying the container. In some cases a "leaf master" of cut pages
would be retained, in some cases not. The ethic must focus on the
"object" which in the case of libraries may be disembodied content.

One way around the seeming unvirtue of virtuality would be to advocate
and justify a continuing role for originals in relation to their
surrogates. This is at least conceivable with the paperbased
collections. As Pete Jermann points out, library collections are
peculiar and so is library conservation. I don't think that library
collections conservation can be accommodated within an ethic of
artifactual preservation. At least not any more.

Gary Frost

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:75
                  Distributed: Monday, April 18, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-7-75-008
Received on Monday, 18 April, 1994

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