Lost in Translation

The Importance of Preserving Paper-Based Artifacts in A Digital Age, by Robert Bee, discusses the issue of maintaining a sense of history through the preservation of original paper documents. Books, newspapers, comic books, journals, pamphlets, diaries, accounting ledgers, attendance records, birth records, death certificates, tickets to ball games, tickets to the movies, report cards, baseball cards, birthday cards, award certificates, diplomas…all provide a link to the past. The medium in which the printed material presents itself with various graphics, colors, design features emboldened on a cover or book jacket, for example, can all be lost in the transfer of that material from a paper product to a microfilm version or a digital version. The written information , the text in itself, can easily be transferable but the encompassing product can never be duplicated. Bee continues to write that even the printed word sometimes fails to find its path to the microfilm or digital version and somehow is lost in translation. The dilemma Bee writes about is how to find an adequate solution to preserve all paper-based products in the original package because each paper product provides a historical timeline to our past.

Actually, before I read this article I did not realize how important preservation technology was in the restoration of all types of print material. Even with microfilm and digitalization of the massive print material, voluminous works on paper disappear. Librarians certainly have their work cut out for them. Preserving works in their original form, be it print or in digital format is not only an art, in itself, but a permanent note in our American history.

Question: How are original paper literature and various print artifacts actually preserved? Paper decomposes eventually. I’d like to see the process. Where can one go? Are there national archives of our past printed material?


One response to “Lost in Translation

  1. That’s a great question, Colleen. Some paper and print objects can be preserved by keeping them in low-temperature, low-humidity, low-oxygen environments, and making sure that they’re not handled often. The Library of Congress and other archives do have old material, though paper is not as durable as some texts from antiquity which were written on vellum (sheepskin) and other materials, for example. As with many perishable items, a lot depends on the history of the object. If it was well cared-for it has a greater chance of surviving.

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