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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

Conservation Corner Back

Digital-based materials

Organizing and Preserving Collections
Part 4: Digital-Based Material

by Rebecca Pavitt
Fine Art Conservation

Digital preservation is in its infancy but, long story short, don’t count on sharing your digital Kodak moments with your great grandchildren. Unlike physical objects that can be held, touched and cherished, digital objects need machines to create, store, retrieve and view them. If the machines go, so goes the information. I had a first-hand reminder of just how ephemeral most of my post-2000 records were. My new Stargate hard drive died due to “inherent vice” and I was left with: nothing.

To the uninitiated, this might seem like a blessing from heaven. All of those nagging, undone, file management/computer housekeeping issues one has been meaning to deal with are, well, dealt with. Tabula rasa Nirvana! Microsoft recently did an extensive survey, asking people how important it was for them to keep their digital information. The result was an unexpected and resounding – Not at All! The overwhelming majority of participants said they would welcome losing the contents of their hard drive – they compared it to a cleansing house fire that would free them from their burdensome files.

Attractive as that scenario may sound, I can personally vouch for the fact that the brutal reality is otherwise. Accounts receivable, baby’s first smile, e-mails from dearly departed, important income tax information, and Gramma’s audio family history – all gone in the poof of a microchip.

Fortunately, most of my information was retrievable (at a cost) and I now have a back-up hard drive. Every evening a clever little software program copies my new files to the back-up drive. If I had really learnt my lesson, I would have had a second software program copy my files to an off-site location (cloud storage). Ever one for locking the barn door after the horse has escaped, I am sure I will start doing this after the big one hits.

But back-up is just part of the story. Every software upgrade, every new operating system, every hardware innovation, will render your files just that more obsolete. Unless you view and refresh all of your files in the new systems, the visual look or audio sound may change, and information packets are at risk of loss. Even if you migrate and transfer religiously (and who does?) there is nothing to prevent proprietary software systems from closing shop, or from simply ceasing to support older file versions. After all, if we don’t care about saving our information, (and research shows we don’t) why should a for-profit company spend good money helping us do so?

Well-heeled corporations and publicly funded institutions with IT departments and/or digital conservators are in a slightly better position than the private file manager. As “early” as 1996 in the U.S., the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Research Libraries Group created a Task Force on Digital Archiving, which led to the publication of two reports: Building a National Strategy for Digital Preservation issues in Digital Media Archiving (2002) and Preserving our Digital Heritage: The National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (2010).

Recommendations coming out of these studies include:

  • sustainable, open source, digital file formats with universal/standardized descriptive metadata (to allow searchability and retrieval)
  • identifying and organizing the items that are important to preserve (and winnowing or allowing the “natural death” of the remainder)
  • multiple backups of important items stored in multiple locations
  • regular migration/transfer to new formats and media

For more information on digital preservation visit www.digitalpreservation.gov/ or contact one of Canada’s Pioneer Digital Conservators, Sue Bigelow at the City of Vancouver Archives.

Previously: Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based material
Next issue: To Line or Not to Line: structural remedies for canvas paintings by new contributor Nadine Power, a fine art conservator specializing in Painting Conservation


 Sun, Dec 9, 2012