RLI 283 “There’s a Great Future in Plastics” 13 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC 2013 Thousands of plastic artifacts placed unprecedented demands on the library’s preservation program. The term “plastic” derives from the material’s most desired quality—malleability. In spite of its reputation for longevity, most plastics degrade over time. As they “off-gas,” many plastics become increasingly brittle, sometimes leaving a soupy residue. The library’s conservator recommended stabilizing the environment (cool, but not cold, and dry) and re-housing the artifacts in acid-free cardboard containers that facilitated cross-ventilation and reduced the effects of off-gassing. Processing staff were able to fold this re-housing step into the digitization workflow. More recently, the conservator has reached out to institutions, such as the Smithsonian, that are actively investigating plastic’s long-term preservation and conservation needs. Digitization of the artifacts began soon after their arrival. (The library opted not to digitize paper-based materials at this point in part because of copyright considerations and in part because the advisory board felt that the website should feature the artifacts most prominently.) Rather than do this work in the library, which would have involved significant expenditures for equipment and staffing, the library contracted with the university’s Photo and Imaging Center, a fee-based unit that reports to campus information technology. The director of special collections negotiated a reasonable per-item cost, which made it possible to present donors with an accurate budget for digitization. The photographer captured the images and used the item-level accession numbers as the filenames, which made it possible to match images to artifacts after the fact. Newly captured images and existing metadata were imported into an instance of CONTENTdm that had been heavily customized by the library’s information technology unit to provide access to the artifacts and associated metadata, as well as a growing corpus of interpretative content. Some of the more interesting objects, including a polystyrene Maccaferri guitar popularized by Django Reinhardt, were imaged as QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) files, which allowed researchers to examine them from a variety of angles. Ongoing Collaboration From the outset, the library’s assistant dean for advancement played a key role in coordinating the project’s advisory group, which includes current and potential donors as well as subject-area experts. Besides co-authoring the deposit agreement, he worked successfully to transform the deposit into an outright gift one year ahead of schedule. Above all, he serves as an interpreter among the donors, translating terms like “metadata” and “faceted browsing” for them. His continuing involvement is particularly important given the degree to which the plastics advisory board is involved in the day-to- day development of the website. Moreover, he has helped secure more than $300,000 in project funding. A portion of that funding was used to hire a temporary curator when, after discussions with the advisory board, it became apparent that the goal was not simply to build a website that showcased the collection, but rather one that functioned as an authoritative resource and included rich interpretative content. A subsequent gift of $150,000 has supported the design and construction of a small reading room in Bird Library that features permanent exhibition space, a selection of books and artifacts, a workstation dedicated to browsing the collection website, as well as mid-century modern soft seating that evokes the “Age of Plastic.” The reading room will be dedicated in 2013.
Previous Page Next Page