preservation and persistence of the changing book

Archive for February, 2013



A test of sustainability, or reliable projection, of a research service is the sustainability of its rationale. Digitizing Special Collections is a research service in search of a sustainable rationale. While findings confirm the enthusiasm for Special Collections digitization the activities are dispersed and users nebulous, and maintenance costs could overtake proliferation and growth. Volatility appears predictable.

A shift in rationale may help. Other management designs have shifted from a goal of sustainability to a premise of resilience or adaptive strategy. Resilience already situates Special Collection digitization as this activity searches for audience engagement, research outcomes, and preservation support only after project release.

Adaptive strategy is perfectly suited to management of digitized Special Collections.
Resilience features continual adjustment and occasional reversal of action in quick response to changing circumstance. Systems ranging from cultural transmission to wildlife ecologies resist sustainable agendas. Such systems are resilient and suited to resilient management and that resilience can be observed and measured.

An emphasis on sustainability and its absence is apparent in a recent report “Appraising our Digital Investment: Sustainability of Digitized Special Collections in ARL Libraries”, 2013. The framing provides both platform and desperation. The platform may echo a methodic accumulation of the source collections that cannot easily be projected into screen display and remote user surveillance. Any desperation may reflect uncertain service use of an integrated physical and digital Special Collections. Ecologies need resilience.


“The verbal and visual cues are manifest inside, outside, and around the text proper, appearing simultaneously with the text and configuring the reading experience in fundamental ways.” Bonnie Mak, How the Page Matters

Consider the Wikipedia and you will find your mind wedged at a paratext of the page layout complete with the headers, hierarchy, link colors and inset frames. In this vision you will see the text as a grey dusting. How obstinate and yet how ready.

Literary studies now recognize a layout of content less immediate to visualization. This is the database with its algorithmic code acting as a “means of shaping the display of text and image.” (Bonnie Mak) Parameters of the less conceivable screen paratext include the window dressing of codex paratext that decoys the massive database and its algorithmic cascades.

As with all issues at FotB, we look exactly between seeming binaries such as paper and screen display layouts. In between we find that paratextual navigation is a cognitive strategy of the bionic reader and that we use such learning constructs with both paper and screen. Take a look at Rough Type for paratext news.

book adventures

A first hand account of the recent history of the book is now printed. This gripping adventure of the codex in the 21st century; A Commonplace Book, can be ordered from Iowa Book Works. Just send a mailing address to iowa.book.works@mchsi.com and you will be billed later $10 plus $3 shipping. Also in stock are the classic mysteries The Future of the Book and Adventures in Book Preservation, nicely produced and ready for you to read also at $10 each.



Boundaries evolved to identify Special Collections. These were confining boundaries that managed accessions as well as migrations from more general collections. Now these determinants are receding as a wider distinction between all physical media emerges for collection management in a context of non-local on-line resources.

Such reconfiguration is apparent across disciplines. While humanists reflect on the screen simulation of their general print collections, the scientists de-accession analog media as they develop fully screen based libraries. The overall trend is toward recognition of physical media as a determinate of a separate, special collection type.

Such a distinction may be overdue. Little recognition of the material features of newspapers, for example, resulted in their discard following microfilming. Other default neglects caused loss of scientific records as is evident in census data or analog telemetry.

Perhaps other faulty outcomes lurk in collections transmission going forward. A “special” designation does accord well with the physicality of media but the wholesale functionalities of residual physical collections in their back-up, mastering, and authentication roles remains volatile.

A persuasive research interdependence of physical and screen resources is needed to confirm the library service of their mediation.

authentication reversed

Deletion, erasure, and cancellation of faulty previous states of digital archives can be positive. Such events occurring prior to emergence of a certified and trusted digital source are already apparent. Curious implications for authentication arise.

Screen archives (either derivative from other media or “born” digital) and physical archives each fulfill distinctive roles within archival transmission. This premise is confirmed in common experience and research method. The physical items feature enriched self-authentication and the screen items feature enriched self-indexing and automated searching. As distinctive archival entities neither can be a simulation of the other and both act as distinctive research sources.

Advancing to authenticate original and surrogate states of each it can be acknowledged that copies are propagated from a physical exemplar but it can also be conjectured that digital copies propagate before recognition of their exemplar source. Such a bizarre conjecture is based on the inadequacy of previous screen displays and the greater authority of screen displays yet to come. As copies propagate the emergence of the exemplar can be delayed continuously. Surprisingly, common experience and research method supports such an illogic

Archival screen display undergoes version supersessions, augmented navigation and links, metadata modification, certification review, and conversion to open access formats. Such change displaces previous states and expedites their deletion. In this context the subsequent screen source supplants its faulty previous states and a surprising implication is reversal of the process of authentication from faulty copy states to a subsequent, awaited exemplar source. An interdependence of physical and screen display as well as an exercise of comparative media studies is suggested.


Jessica Pressman offered a talk on page space. The FotB take-home was triggered when she mentioned that distinctions dissipate between media and literary studies. If so we can consider how books and reading relate.

Reading behaviors slide effortlessly between print and screen and between classical and futurist enclaves. Books, on the other hand, are a bouncing Karaoke cursor, popping up here and then there. The codex metaphor of a printed laminate pops with the digital 3D printing or a digital physicality can be discerned in laser incised calligraphy.

This distinction remains, the fluidity of reading behaviors and the Itsy pop-ups of material objects.


3d printing

“To perform a print, the machine reads the design and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined together or automatically fused to create the final shape.” Wiki

To make a book, the machine reads the design and lays down successive pages to build the book from a series. These page layers corresponding to the virtual collation from the model, are joined together to create the final shape.

“The technology is coming whether we like it or not,” Weinberg says. “And so, as a CEO of one of these companies, you can spend a lot of time and money trying to sue it out of existence — and sue the genie back into the bottle — or you can spend that same time and money and apply it toward finding a way to use the technology to your advantage.”

The premise of 3D printing may be considered from origins in Antiquity and certainly correlates with electro static production of paper books on demand or with the Espresso machine. Even the fussed laminates relate well to paper books unopened. Another tether of the 3D premise is the fuse of image, surface and commodity. This trilogy extracted from 3D research exemplifies the fuse of printing, paper, and bookbinding needed to produce a book.

Can the paper book template offer options to the early stage of 3d printing technology? “Blank forms transform “manuscript” into the technology of the future.” Peter Stallybrass

library mission

The mission of libraries is to advance literacy, reading and cross-media mediation. If this premise is valid libraries will persist and easily weather format and technology surges. All other social functions of the libraries can be considered extensions of the basic mission. But what will happen if Amazon takes over the library mission? Is Amazon better at advancing literacy, reading and cross-media mediation? As an enterprise it appears possible, but is it a culture?


Conservators are sometimes asked to assist confirmation of fakes. With a fake the authentication of the nominal item invariably falters with materials and structural displacements. Originals, by contrast, withstand continued scrutiny without such displacements or discrepancies. The crucial transaction is comparative evaluation.

Perhaps this comparative premise can be applied more widely. We can consider original and copy transactions without any intended misrepresentation. A specific case would be a screen version of an archival source or an exhibit reproduction of a Daguerreotype or crowd sourced transcriptions of 18th c. recipes. Regardless of intention, the original and copy interact to produce a third entity. This is a resilient, mutually defining composite meaning.

Preservation can conserve this wider meaning. Not only can the original and the copy (of material or immaterial medium) be preserved, but the relationship can be stabilized by composite authentication, combined provenance, integrated stabilizations, reformattings and restorations and integrated protection of original and copy.

Familiar case histories abound such as the composite preservation of print books and their screen displays or a Civil War diary and its carefully captured digital images. The methods integrate certification, processing and treatment, and repository actions for both original and copy.

The wild card at this early state of digital technologies is that archival digital copy is ever trending toward more complete tagging, more concise discovery, wider access, quicker navigation and higher visual resolution. Version supersession, revision overwriting, multiple display and delivery formats and automated deletion all add to the transience of faulty previous states. Preservation applied to such transience is problematic.

So problematic is digital copy preservation in context with a composite original/copy transmission that preservation can be compromised. Greater hazard is added were the crucial continuing roles of originals in a context or their digital copy, including back-up, re-mastering and authentication roles, are discounted and dismissed.

Preservation advocacy for the continuing role of the source in a context of its digital simulation is needed. Preservation of the composite meaning of original and copy, now enriched by almost a century of scholarly exposition, appears to call now on responsible action of conservators.


lurking complements

“The e-book should be a complement to the print book. That would not only make a print book more valuable and hence more likely to be purchased. It would also give publishers more control over the future of the e-book market. By setting up their own mechanism for downloads, they’d also gain more control over the rights and restrictions built into e-books, including the ability to make money directly from future transfers. “ Nick Carr (see suggestive comment thread on copy annotation rights in file transfer) “Are the annotations attached to the particular copy of the e-book, and allowed to remain attached to it when it passes to a new reader, or do the annotations exist in a separate sphere — say, in a personal online database that is the property of the individual reader? If it’s the latter, then the annotations may not follow the copy but instead might be stripped out at the moment of transfer, when the e-book is returned to its original, pristine “perfect” state “ Nick Carr

Lurking transfer issues can be extended beyond owner annotation. The screen copy provides transactional tracks, including a device library context, to the publisher or provider. The print copy propagates transfer issues beyond owner annotation. Here arcane features such as rebinding or discoloration from cigarette smoke should not be quickly dismissed. With print ownership produces physical annotations.

As interesting are the ownership transactions not transferred. These are the displacements of perspective and exposition provoked, exchanges of opinion and shifts of forums of discussion. Re-readings, cross-references, tethers of authorship and readership can also be invisible.

The complements of print and screen ownership fade as the performative actions and reactions merge into a single book transmission system that is difficult to track overall.

Consider the eerie complement where “text” is a noun in print but a verb on the screen. Other surprising counterparts are apparent. The print image is fixed, persistent, material and off-line while the screen image is fluid, transient, immaterial, and connected. As a book the affordances contrast as well. The print book is embodied and self-authenticating while the screen book is disembodied and self-indexing. What is going on? Some kind of syncopation is lurking.

Let’s explain this….perhaps the interdependence of print and screen books is inevitable…and unrelated to delivery formats alone. Perhaps the phenomenon of the complementary fit of print and screen book affordances is a perceptual requirement of reading behavior as a wider array or spectrum defines the capacity of reading activity.

pre-reading book

One of the attributes of the President’s agenda for pre-school learning relates to books. This is that learning about books can begin long before reading. Crucial realizations of the anatomy, navigation and function of books will dawn before there is even a grasp that reading skill will open another new dimension of their allure.

As David Brooks mentions, it is a handicap for children to arrive in kindergarten without even a sense of book orientation. “When they get to kindergarten they’ve never been read a book, so they don’t know the difference between the front cover and the back cover.” Reading books to preschoolers prompts early exercise of the fantasy transactions that books embody. Haptic features of page turning are an entertainment and an invitation to dexterity. Orientation of front and back, top and bottom, book weight and book sounds all prompt other paratext understandings before reading.

An early start of reading books to preschoolers will teach adults as well. As reading skills advance we can continue to learn mechanisms of the codex and continue to realize understanding that books enable.

feral ebook

Default or passive agendas are volatile as they shift toward stabilization or disruption. Natural systems do not come to rest. Resilience is optimal with continual adjustment and reversal of action in quick response to changing circumstance. Systems ranging from cultural transmission to wildlife ecologies resist restorative, sustainable, retrospective agendas. Such systems are resilient and suited to resilient management. Default or passive management assures mis-management.

Inherent resilience can be observed and measured. Feral species behaviors, of disrupted wild or domesticated behavior, can be monitored in hybrid features and displacement from previous base-line behavior. A specific example of interaction of white tail deer with suburban sprawl also suggests that multiple systems interact resiliently.

In a cultural context, media specialists study resilient interactions of formats and their cumulative influences on cultural transmission. Here increasing volatility of transmission systems is a mirror of culture change and the interaction of two resilient systems is observed.

E-books are feral print books, but both formats are resilient and both thrive in a volatile publishing ecology. A tether between resilience and community is apparent. A lurking enclave of feral characters will quickly gather, mingle, and coalesce around an opportunist format. A web of socialization accentuated by overlays of language in writing, reading and publication will emerge spontaneously. Startup communities and their enterprises build resilience into initiatives in risky environments. Within these entrepreneurial communities failure and success are a single ecosystem defined by resilience.


a life of their own

The book emerged from a fabulous assembly of language, writing and reading in a phenomenon of epigenetic or cultural evolution. The resulting book invention then provoked a displacement of the bionic self away from direct perceptions where it modified mood and mind. So persuasive is the book’s conversion of thoughts into things that a further disturbance emerges as we lend psychic state to extra-somatic knowledge. Books are directly implicated if the universe turns out to be information based.

Does book displacement shift reality? Scholars discredit technological determinism, but not a deterministic influence of books. Picking up where bionic evolution left off, cultural evolution is deterministic. Of particular interest now is the assimilation of screen and print formats within a cohesive book transmission system. The transmission system features innovations of paratext, the format apparatus of books, and a trilogy of image derived from printing, surface derived from paper and commodity derived from bookbinding. A near counter-culture of books and libraries complements bionic living and resilient book transmission across time and cultures lends an eerie quality as human mortality either spans or is transcended by a displaced self of books. The cyborg and the future of the book is old news.

Books have a life of their own. Currently both screen connectivity and print insularity combine to resolve conflicting agendas either to maintain bibliographic entities or to dissolve them. Print attributes of fixity, mechanical navigation, and persistent re-access across time all pair nicely with screen attributes of live content, automated search, cloud repository and electronic delivery. The self-authenticating nature of the print book is a complement of the self-indexing nature of the screen book.

line in the sand

“Books and Print Sandbox will explore the future of the printed word”

The Books and Print Sandbox is currently funding eight projects to project the future of the print book. The projects do appear to go tangential, but the starting premise is cool.

resilience 4

The void to cross is between genetic and epigenetic evolution and specifically between Hominids and books. This is easy if you visualize book transmission as a kind of genetic reproduction. The void dissipates further as we consider the mutual compulsions projected onto the two emotionless agencies. Genes try to outsmart each other for survival while books “somehow best at making their way into our consciousness will have a much higher chance of being transmitted to some other mind”. (Mark Pagel, Wired for Culture)

Encoding is at the center of both genetic and epigenetic transmission. A better way of describing this communality would be to say that there is an encoded handoff or mediation between the source and recipient or between one generation and another. With that shared trait we can almost avoid the void of any separation; genetic transmission and book transmission are features of a single system of inheritance.

So…is this surprising? Well it does add to the resilience of transmission across generations since there are both bionic and cultural transmissions at work authenticating each other. Genes and books crosscheck each other. But, then, is that surprising? Well, again, resilience of an increasingly hybrid transmission may best respond to a changing environment.



“He was intimately familiar with the many nooks and crannies in which the city’s residents have long hid their treasured manuscripts. While expanding the family’s compound a decade ago, he found a trove of manuscripts hidden inside a wall.”

The sagas of book preservation in Timbutu echo the deliberate and canny actions that hid the Nag Hammadi Gnostic gospels in the fourth century and enabled their survival into the twentieth century. The early sectarians would be disappointed to know that their manuscripts were roughly received sixteen centuries later when haste, hubris and greed deconstructed their bindings and destroyed their book formats.

whole service

“Use technology and services to increase the value of bookstores. Print-on-demand printers in bookstores. Ebook kiosks. Always-on wifi. Discounts on any ebook bought in-store. Book cafes. Readings and teach-ins. Book discovery events. Creches and play/reading areas for kids. There are loads of ways – it’s just that the WalMart approach of some bookstore chains has worked against them” TeleRead

Bookstores do not need help from readers who value item price first. Bookstores need advocates who value their whole services. Imagine you will visit but purchase nothing. At Amazon you will enjoy the personal suggestions and the book previews. In a bookstore you have the same pastimes although live rather than automated. In both visits you have fulfillment of time set apart for smart, stimulating entertainment that will also enrich relations with others. And who will not value a commercial operation with a harmless, efficient, elegant product where the customer is left in passive tranquility.

whole service 2

The displacement that may need debate is not manuscript to print or even the template of manuscript to print projected as a recurrent binary. Higher education is dealing with displacement from the classroom to the screen. What is recurrent is a lag of mobility of humanist studies behind sciences, law, and other disciplines.

A good diagnostic here is the adventure of independent bookstores. These are highly inventive with their allures and well situated to persist with their socializations of a life of the mind. At the same time on-line fulfillments surround them.

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