ALA 2010 Program: Strategic Future of Print Collections

This program was organized by Gary Frost, University Conservator, University of Iowa Libraries, and  Debra S. Nolan, Executive Director of the Library Binding Institute.

Gary Frost began the session by describing the interplay between print and screen reading. He urged us to think about the potential interdependence between the self-authenticating nature of print and the self-indexing nature of the screen. This “and” not “or” will be investigated by Walt Crawford, the next speaker.

    Walt Crawford, “Inclusionary Readings: Screen and Paper”

    Crawford believes that digital resources enhance print resources. He sees the multi-platform situation as an “and, not an or” scenario.

    The future of digital books may depend greatly on whether the Google Book Settlement (GPS) is approved and in what form. GBS is a great way to discover books, and it may be a plausible form of research but there are issues of authentication, permissions and data mining that need to be worked out to be successful.

    In Crawford’s opinion GBS is a questionable way of reading long-form materials. Print works very well for a large number of people, you can’t say the same for e-books. Amazon‘s data indicate that Kindle owners (admittedly a self selecting group of book readers) purchase more print books than Kindle titles, thus indicating an interdependence of print and screen reading at least amongst this group.

    It is also a questionable preservation option as it relies on a private, for-profit company and has inherently less permanence (presumably since their main function is not preservation but profit).

    We don’t and can’t know how this interdependence will play out since we can’t predict the future with any accuracy. Most things trend toward complexity and a mix of analog and digital and reading will be no different.

      Shannon Zachary, Head of Preservation and Conservation, University of Michigan Libraries, presented “Past Books in the Present World: Strategic Future of Print Collections in Research Libraries,” a look at the Google Book project at the University of Michgan’s library. It started in 2004 and to date scanned an estimated 4.5 million books (Google has scanned over 13 million from all its partners so far).

      Zachary was initially concerned about what this process would do to the physical books. Google was committed to a non-destructive scanning method that caused minimal damage, but if you handle things in bulk, damage will occur. How much damage will happen is hard to predict.

      She is becoming more confident that e-books will be preserved. The U. Michigan library gets a digital copy of Google’s scans, and will work with the Hathi Trust to make sure they are available in the future should they disappear from Google.

      That doesn’t mean that print necessarily declines. Print remains a resource should the item need to be scanned again due to quality issues. Full text for many books is not available due to copyright, so Google can be a discovery tool but not an access tool, which print can continue to provide.

        Doug Nishimura from the Image Permanence Institute presented “Print on Demand Quality Issues for Libraries.” As a chemist and member of the ISO-ANSI committee responsible for the physical properties and permanence of imaging materials, he is interested in the physical permanence of print on demand (POD) books.

        POD has many advantages, there are no warehousing costs for books, press runs better match the demand especially for short-run books, and corrections and updates are easy to make.

        The accelerated testing to determine longevity of digital prints vs. traditional lithography has shown mixed results. Digital press books have held up better under UV light (the equivalent of 52 years of exposure), but some of the paper the digital press books have been printed on yellows much faster than litho-printed. Water is much more damaging to digitally printed books, and pigment ink-jet tends to abrade easily because the ink sits on the surface of the paper, unlike litho-printing. More study is needed.

        Virtually no work has been done yet on the stability of POD books themselves. The preservation issues will change, too, as the technology changes. There have been, and will be a multitude of print methods so some sort of process identification will be needed in order to determine how they hold up and what they will be susceptible to.

        The DP3 Project, funded in part by IMLS and the Mellon Foundation, will investigate the longevity of digital prints. The Digital Print Preservation Portal (part of the DP3 project) will have testing results and more information. You can also sign up for their newsletter from that site.


        4 Responses

        1. […] is investigating the long-term character of Print On Demand (POD) books, among other research. he shared some of his work on POD, though still in progress, with conservators & ‘preservationists’ (? – i […]

        2. Thanks Evan, great write up. It’s good to see others blogging about this, too.

        3. […] together by one of my favorite professors Allyson Carlyle would have been interesting to go to. “The Strategic Future of Print Collections” would also have been great to go to. Luckily PCAN (Preservation and Conservation Administration […]

        4. Thanks for this writeup. One very important component of Walt Crawford’s talk that you didn’t mention here was his scoping statement. As you may remember, he emphasized that he was not speaking about journals, serials, reference literature, and so forth, which have different affordances, but that he was restricting his comments to long-form works such as traditionally understood books. His argument for a multi-platform future would therefore be restricted to this definition of books, rather than an argument that he was making more broadly.


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