Rebecca Erickson

Preserved

The books I buried were the Life Science library from the 1960’s.Treating these books as future archaeological artifacts, they were wrapped in canvas or foil and dipped in bees wax to create a sealed book. The wax dipped books become both a curiosity, a reminder of processes of domestic preservation (canning, root cellars, planting), and also a new artifact, sitting on the cusp of preservation and decay.

The idea of burying books seems counter intuitive to keeping information alive. Yet, consider things stored and preserved in the ground: seeds; food in root cellars; water in cisterns and wells. Burial can be preservation instead of decomposition. These wax dipped books are purposefully made anachronistic artifact of the future.The insufficiency of the preservation method speaks to the fragility of knowledge preservation even when protected and sealed underground.

The question of how to safeguard cultural and scientific knowledge is a focal point for contemporary library, science and cultural conservators.

There are massive projects underway to address this issue. While Preserved was a personal sized project exploring similar themes, these projects are global, and beyond, in scope. For example;

The Google Books Library Project is is scanning and making a searchable database of the collections of several major research libraries. Along with bibliographic information, snippets of text from a book are viewable. If a book is in the public domain it is fully available to read or to download.

The Internet Archive Project  Brewster Kahle, founder of The Internet Archives Project, "As the Internet Archive has digitized collections and placed them on our computer disks, we have found that the digital versions have more and more in common with physical versions. The computer hard disks, while holding digital data, are still physical objects. As such we archive them as they retire after their 3-5 year lifetime. Similarly, we also archive microfilm, which was a previous generation’s access format. So, hard drives are just another physical format that stores information. This connection showed us that physical archiving is still an important function in a digital era”.

The CASPAR Project (Cultural, Artistic, and Scientific knowledge for Preservation, Access and Retrieval)  Project coordinator, David Giaretta, "As digital information is becoming more ubiquitous and indispensable and at the same time extremely fragile, there is the need to provide tools and techniques for secure, reliable and cost-effective preservation of digitally encoded information for the indefinite future”.

The Sheneset Project "Most people in the industrial world today take for granted that they can get information of any kind they wish, cheaply and easily, drawing on the Internet, public libraries, and many other resources. Today’s glut of information only exists, however, because abundant energy and material resources can be assigned to information storage and distribution by each industrial society. The end of the age of cheap energy places that at risk; the savage budget cuts beginning to impact library systems in many countries are a harbinger of greater troubles to come. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that most of the technologies used for information storage and retrieval are fragile and expensive to maintain, and cannot be accessed at all without specific technologies that may be difficult to keep working in a challenging future. Most digital storage media also have very short shelf lives—CDs, for example, begin to break down within a decade even when properly stored. If current trends persist, much of the knowledge that exists today could be lost as the technological and material basis that supports it goes away.”

The Golden Record on the Voyager 1 space craft is very close to entering interstellar space and becoming the first human-made object to leave the Solar System. That record, while made as a symbolic gesture to the infinitesimal probability of a space-faring civilization encountering it, is expected to reach trajectory in 40,0000 year and is the farthest manmade object from earth.

Rebecca Erickson, June 2012