December 28, 2009

I’m rather embarrassed to say that over the long holiday weekend I spent one night rubbing mineral oil into the wooden handles of my silverware and into my wooden cooking utensils. I’m not sure whether I’m more embarrassed of the fact that this was what I chose to do on a night off with the whole city out there waiting for me, or whether it’s because I’m ashamed it took me several months to get around to doing this task.

As the old saw goes, a cobbler’s children go shoeless and a doctor’s wife dies young. After spending all day focused in on proper care and handling, persistence, and preservation treatment, those become the things I want to set aside briefly as I decompress from the workday. And of course we all tend to face the same struggle at home as we do at work of trying to find the resources (time & energy) to take care of everything that needs to be done.

But, rested from a day off and caught up on my Google Procrastinator (read: Google Reader) because the posts had slowed down for the weekend, I finally set out my materials and got to work. It turned out to be rather enjoyable — satisfying to get something done and the wood looks quite nice now.

This could be a quaint little lesson about the joy of doing work, but instead what I was thinking about while oiling was how this set of silverware was one of the first objects I owned that really called for this level of care. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I feel I grew up (and still live) in a disposables culture. Affordable material objects are not typically designed to last for very long. They are cheap and easy to produce and therefore eminently replaceable. Even higher priced objects like computers, furniture, and cars are thought of as short term, something one will want to update in 2-5 years.**

My great fear is that this kind of attitude has expanded to how people treat media objects. After decades of getting used to mass produced video and audiocassettes, CDs, and DVDs that seem to have no intrinsic value, or thinking about born-digital content and storage as an unending resource do we stop thinking about them as something that needs care and attention? Not saying that everything needs to be prioritized to a preservation level, but might people’s habits in how they treat the widespread, everyday non-archival items creep into how everything is treated?

Preservation and archiving are a series of proactive efforts as well as a mindset. As I find in distance running, it’s not the physical act that is difficult; it is overcoming the mental barriers to get myself out to run that is the hardest part. There are many standards and best practices in place for the what and how of archiving and preservation that are easy enough to access and implement. Perhaps we should begin to consider the mental approach and assessment of our work actions as requiring an equal amount of focus in order to better serve our valued assets.

— Joshua Ranger

**Yes, in audiovisual preservation the content carrier will need to be replaced on a regular schedule, but that doesn’t mean the current instantiation can be mistreated because it won’t be around long term.