Notes from ALA, the Statistics Discussion

Tara Kennedy kindly sent us her thorough notes from the discussion concerning ARL’s suspension of collecting preservation data pending a redesign of the survey tool. Thanks Tara for sharing.

ALCTS/ PARS Preservation Forum, The Future of Preservation ARL Statistics
Sunday January 9, 2011 (San Diego, CA)

The ALCTS/PARS 2011 Midwinter Forum was organized as an arena to discuss the future of ARL Preservation Statistics, which have been suspended while they undergo a revision process of all their annual surveys. This forum was an opportunity for preservation professionals to voice their opinions about gaps in data collection and how to shape a future survey. The PARS Forum was chaired by Karen E. Brown, University at Albany, SUNY.

What kind of evidence is needed to demonstrate that libraries are positioned to preserve content effectively in the 21st century? How to we capture work involved with public outreach, education and training? What data is needed to accurately reflect preservation of digital holdings?

Three speakers representing the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) formed the panel:
Brinley Franklin, UCONN and ARL Past President
Martha Kyrillidou, Senior Director, ARL statistics
Gordon Fretwell, Consultant to ARL’s statistics program

Brinley Franklin discussed the reasons for suspending the collection of preservation statistics in 2008/2009, and where the future of ARL statistics is going.

• In June 2007, the task force on the Future of Preservation of ARL Libraries issued its report “Strategic Action Agenda for Preservation in Research Libraries” after being charged to better define ARL’s role as an advocate and supporter of preservation efforts in research libraries. In September 2007, Lars Meyer was appointed Visiting Program Officer to assess the state of preservation programs in ARL libraries. His paper, “Safeguarding Collections at the Dawn of the 21st Century” was released in May 2009.

• In October 2009, the ARL Statistics and Assessment Committee asked members to suspend the collection of preservation statistics in its current format until something else could be developed. There are several working groups and task forces looking at collections in the 21st century and these groups will touch on how preservation fits in this role.

• Franklin goes on to state that the preservation community is larger than ARL ever thought it would be, and that it doesn’t just take place in the lab any more, particularly with respect to digital preservation. He suggested that collaboration is absolutely necessary with respect to preservation of digital assests, and that a national preservation strategy is absolutely necessary.

Martha Kyrillidou spoke next and provided an overview of the history of ARL Preservation Statistics.

• The need for more defined ARL agenda for preservation was articulated. The statistics as they are do not necessarily link to strategic priorities. It is clear that the current survey is not asking the right questions. ARL libraries need better ways argue effectively for an investment in preservation. In addition, the preservation needs in ARL addresses should also focus at the policy level, not just the operational issues included in the past ARL preservation statistics. This emphasis on qualitative, rather than quantitative measures was informed by Meyers’ paper. She reported that several SPEC Kits are up and coming in 2011 that will inform revision efforts. A Task Force has been formed to review the ARL Statistics, the ARL Supplementary Statistics and ARL Annual Salary Survey

Gordon Fretwell asked for feedback about how we might improve the metrics (qualitative or quantitative). Below are summary comments offered up by preservation professionals who attended this PARS Forum:

• In the 1980s, when ARL started collecting statistics, the statistics didn’t capture all that was being done in preservation (e.g. disaster planning and recovery, education and outreach). The statistics counted numbers, but never captured the qualitative elements of preservation. When the task force looks at this, they should include the preservation community.

• There are a lot of survey tools in the industry (e.g. several audiovisual survey tools) and many data collecting models that ARL could use as examples, such as the Heritage Health Index. In addition, statistics measured departmental activities, but not in a way to reflect what preservation departments do. Also, the ARL Statistics did a poor job of collecting statistics on conservation activities – ARL should take a close look at that. AIC (the American Institute for Conservation) was a suggestion for some examples.

• Operational data has a place. For a lot of institutions the “nitty gritty” information can be useful when you’re trying to build a program, but that should not be the main focus. Preservation is happening everywhere; the form would go out to all the departments and an administrative assistant would get back that information. It was useful to find out what was happening in other parts in the library.

• Scoring treatments as “1, 2, 3” is useless; they would like to see some effort put into coming up with some other method of counting treatments and other activities in conservation. The data is important to have but preservation personnel need it much differently. It is also important to differentiate between conservation in general and special collections.

• Counting staffing is not useful, particularly when it comes to digitization. Does each scanner operator count as preservation staff? Metadata librarian? How can you use those figures in a meaningful way? They are hard to collect.

• Points to consider about preservation statistics of digital works:

o The focus of “digitization” as opposed to “born digital”; analog to digital is very different from born digital materials. With born digital, there is no analog backup, but anything born digital is most likely to have multiple copies – collaborative works more likely with born digital.

o There is a difference between stewardship over digital and stewardship over analog: there are personnel issues. In the digital realm, there are nebulous job descriptions, which are very different from analog, e.g. conservator, preservation librarian. Also, in many places, the stewardship in digital works is not in the preservation department, depending on the organization and the division of labor. It depends on the domain and who they have on staff.

Franklin relayed some information concerning born digital objects and retention responsibility. He noted that Jackie Dooley’s research into who has the responsibility of preserving born digital collections found that the vast majority had “no one”. The question he asks is: “How do we begin to ask what we’re doing in terms of preserving born digital materials and what are the types of metrics in preserving what was analog content – how does this become relevant?”

In response to Brinley’s question, one participant gives examples of questions that could be asked: Do you have a strategy for long term preservation of your digital works? Can you articulate that? Do you keep track of the original format and the reformatted format? Are you keeping all of the views? How often do you refresh your data? Then another cluster about individual items: how many objects? How many formats? How often do you migrate? Lots of questions…

Participants had some additional comments concerning preservation statistics:

• Design a method of collecting statistics in a way that helps preservation make significant points to the library directors.

• Two tools that might be of interest to ARL concerning collecting preservation statistics: Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) program Connecting to Collections and the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) Surveying Digital Preservation Readiness: Toolkit for Cultural Organizations toolkit.

• Certification of digital repositories may provide some data that would be useful.

• It is important to keep digital and preservation activities and statistics separate.

• Having someone directly involved with preservation on the task force was highly recommended, but ARL will need to have someone at the Library Director level. Several people who were previously involved in Preservation that are now serving as Library Directors were recommended for the Task Force.

The ARL speakers encouraged people at the Forum and others to utilize the Library Assessment Blog to make other comments and suggestions. Please tag your post(s) so that a category of “preservation statistics” appears on the left side column. If one isn’t comfortable with posting their comments in a public arena, please email comments to Martha Kyrillidou:  Martha [at] arl__org

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