Interview with Barclay Ogden, Director for Library Preservation, UC Berkeley Libraries

Pamela Vadekan: Hello. We are here in the Preservation Department at UC Berkeley Library, and today is July 22, 2011. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Barclay Ogden: You’re welcome.

PV: I’ll start at the beginning. What is your job title?

BO: I am Director for Library Preservation.

PV: And what kind of appointment do you have?

BO: It’s a full-time appointment.

PV: And when did you start working at the library?

BO: 1980.

PV: In which library department do you work?

BO: Preservation reports to Collection Services, but it hasn’t always. Over the years it’s reported to a variety of different Associate University Librarians. Some years it’s been Technical services, some years it’s been Collection Services, some years it’s been to the director of the library.

PV: And how long has it been in this configuration?

BO: About the last four or five years.

PV: And what are your primary job duties and responsibilities?

BO: My primary duties are to plan and manage the preservation program for the library, which on a day-by-day basis includes mostly supervising staff that do the work of the preservation program.

PV: And then what are your additional job duties?

BO: Fundraising as required, mostly for preservation. And long-range planning for library services in general, particularly those services that involve access to the retrospective collections.

PV: And describe a typical day or week in your job.

BO: I spent a good chunk of this week writing annual performance reviews, something that, gratefully, I have to do only once a year. But a more typical week might include meeting with staff who are sharing progress on current assignments, and asking for my help to remove roadblocks to their progress. I spend a lot of time working on the budget, in order to make the best use of the resources we have. And I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what the needs of the library are, and trying to make a strong case for additional funding.

PV: And how do you determine you those needs? Who do you get feedback from?

BO: Several ways. Our primary focus is on making materials available to the users. Our priorities are informed by what materials [our patrons] are using and the condition of those materials. We also have each of the circulating units send recently returned materials to preservation if they can no longer be used. We have a use-driven program. And that determines a large percentage of how we spend our time and use our resources. We also use surveys to assess collection needs. We’ll go into the stacks and take a random sample from the collection, analyze its needs, and come up with a plan for addressing those needs.

PV: And when you say “we” does that involve all the units?

BO: The “we” includes mostly the staff in the Preservation Department, but it also includes staff from the libraries where the materials are housed.

PV: And that’s all over campus?

BO: All over campus, right. The library is made up of about twenty subject libraries and a main library.

PV: What are the different units in the preservation department?

BO: The first unit is our binding preparation division, which is responsible for receiving incoming materials from all the shelving units, all the different subject libraries, and organizing them into job lots that then go out to the bindery. After return from the bindery, they get sorted, inspected and then redistributed back to the units from which they came in the first place. That unit has a very heavy workload, and in a typical year is able to process sixty or seventy thousand volumes.

PV: Wow.

BO: The second unit is the conservation treatment division. And it’s responsible for repair of both circulating collections as well as special collections. That staff of five divides its time between keeping up with ongoing repairs of circulating materials, and addressing the needs of special collections, which typically take longer in terms of the length of repair and also cost more.

PV: What types of materials make up the collections?

BO: Obviously there is a heavy emphasis on books, especially in the circulating collections. But in special collections, it’s books, maps, manuscripts, and audiovisual materials.

PV: Including …?

BO: Films, and videotapes and audiotapes and And now, increasingly, digital disks.

PV: And what training prepared you to work with mixed collections?

BO: My original training was at the Newberry Library in Chicago and my focus there was on book collections, so I could expand that to say that I was trained on paper-based materials. When I came to Berkeley some seven years later, the preservation program here, [still in its early days], focused on paper-based collections. And in fact today it is still the dominant focus of the program, but with the advent of you [Pamela] on the scene, we’re now beginning to address some of our audiovisual needs as well.

PV: And since you work with mixed collections, what percentage of time would you estimate you spend working with moving images?

BO: Well, since your arrival—which is the first time I've [devoted] any concentrated amount of time—[I spend] maybe half a day to a day a week on either making decisions about technical issues or figuring out how to fund the preservation of the audiovisual materials.

PV: I guess it would be helpful to talk about your work with the California Preservation Program and how that integrates with the work here.

BO: The California Preservation Program is a statewide program and Berkeley is a participant in so far as some of my time is contributed to the program. The connection that’s most relevant to this interview is that the California Preservation Program realized that there were many historically important audiovisual recordings and there was no systematic effort to preserve them. So in 2007, the CPP undertook a statewide survey of audiovisual archives, and thirty-two libraries and archives participated in that and gave us the data that eventually led to the development of the program we’re talking about today, the California Audiovisual Preservation Project.

PV: And did you see a direct benefit for the library here? Was that always your plan?

BO: Certainly [there is] a direct benefit. This library has never considered itself a strong collector of audiovisual materials, and in fact, because we partner with Stanford on many things, we had given our audio archives to Stanford for the Archives of Recorded Sound there. Having said that however, we do have some materials that one would think of as archival in nature. Audiovisual materials relating to the campus and audiovisual materials relating to our regional oral history office are two examples of areas where we hold unique audiovisual materials.

PV: What about the special collections at Bancroft?

BO: They have accumulated some. As a percentage of their entire holdings of course, it’s miniscule. But still, they’re important and we need now to address them even though they never made a concerted effort to collect audiovisual recordings.

PV: And do you have an idea of the quantity of moving image materials that can be found in the library?

BO: Did you say, “That can be found”?

PV: [Laughter] Yeah.

BO: I don’t have any idea how large our collections are.

PV: I guess we need a survey.

BO: Yes.

PV: And I think you already covered this—the type of media…. There’s video, film, digital, audio?

BO: Yes.

PV: All formats probably.

BO: I assume so, in varying quantities.

PV: And what additional roles do you play in the library? Such as committees….

BO: I serve on a variety of committees, but happily all of them have a preservation connection and I am there in the capacity of [a preservationist]. So [whether] it has to do with exhibits or new storage environments or new buildings my focus is always a preservation contribution.

PV: And how do you continue your professional development in this area, and network with others in this field?

BO: In California, it’s primarily through the CPP. And then there’s another ongoing project called the Western States Territories Assistance Service, which allows me to work with my preservation colleagues from fourteen western and pacific states and territories. So that gives me the regional connectedness that I like to have. And then for national work, it’s primarily through the American Library Association now; and in years gone past, it’s been the Association of Research Libraries, which no longer has as large an interest in preservation as it once had.

I attend the California Library Association annual conference each year as a representative of the CPP. And I staff a booth to help people learn about the program and the services it provides. I also frequently attend the Society of California Archivists annual conference. So those are the two large California conferences that I go to.

I don’t go to any regional conferences routinely, unless one of those organizations meets in a particular year with their counterparts in other states. And then I get that additional exposure.

PV: Within that network, what kinds of services does the CPP provide?

BO: We provide workshops on disaster preparedness, and each participant leaves with a disaster response plan for his or her collection. We do a second workshop that provides institutions with the opportunity to test their plans. Based on the results they get from that test, we encourage institutions to collaborate with other local organizations, such that they will be more effective than they could be working alone.

Recently we developed a workshop on preservation project development and funding. The purpose of the workshop is to teach people how to shape preservation projects and then seek appropriate funding. We observed that many institutions started their preservation program with a preservation project, typically funded from some outside source rather than the operating budget of the institution. So we thought we would get as many more institutions doing this as we could, and that’s the purpose of the workshop.

PV: And have you found the workshops to be an evolving process? Technology changes, standards shift. How do you keep in touch with the latest developments?

BO: The content of the workshops changes. And the easiest way to keep up is to have the trainers stay current with things like what grant programs are available for preservation funding. [And we constantly ask ourselves], What are the arguments that seem most effective in convincing [library] administration of the importance of doing preservation? So we change the workshop as fashion changes with regard to funding sources and successful arguments.

PV: And do you find that the best way to spread the word about the preservation program is through these conferences? How do you stay in touch with everybody?

BO: Well, we certainly talk about the work we do at these conferences, but I suspect that our best network is made up of people who have been to one or more of the workshops. Because they know what the workshops do, they know the results they can get. And they become our best customers for subsequent activities. So we have a growing network, a listserv network, of people who have been to workshops, and have done good things with them, and are now ready to take the next step.

PV: That’s great. And how long has the CPP been around?

BO: Ten years. It started in 2001, although the initial surveys that went into the development of the program were actually done in the early nineties. The surveys led to the development of a bill that went to the legislature and was signed into law to create a Library of California that includes preservation in its programs. However, the appropriations for the authorization were small, and after a couple of years the Library of California was de-funded and so the preservation program never got started [that way]. Unfortunately that took four or five years to play out, so not much happened between 1995 and 2000, at which point it became clear that if we were going to do preservation in California we were going to have to start all over again. And so in 2001 we began with the current program.

PV: I see. Could you describe your relationship with the state library at this point?

BO: The state library is what we think of as the home for the CPP because the base funding that we have for the program comes through the California State Library in the form of LSTA funds.

PV: So what are the challenges that you face in your position?

BO: Probably the largest challenge is figuring out how to use limited resources. The problems of preservation are enormous and they only get larger with each succeeding year because we accumulate more and more records of various kinds. And the challenge is how to make the best use of the resources you have, and how to gain additional resources. I’m of the opinion that as a society we will never devote enough resources to the preservation of the written record to allow us to preserve everything. So we’re going to have to make choices. And how we make those choices is perhaps the largest challenge I face.

PV: Do you want to go on about other challenges?

BO: Probably the second largest challenge is finding funding to do the work that we do want to do. And especially now in 2011, with the state budget being what it is, or what it isn’t perhaps I should say, we’re highly unlikely to get additional funding through that channel. So I think the next largest challenge will be to find alternative sources of funding for preservation of the written record.

PV: And what are some of your recent accomplishments? Or how would you describe your impact?

BO: My first major contributions to the field were in the form of developing needs-assessment tools. Previously we had done condition surveys of the collection, but they never really helped set priorities; they just said in gross numbers how many were brittle, how many materials needed repair, and usually the numbers were so large that it discouraged library administrations from taking action. By introducing needs assessment we built on the concept of condition surveys to include information on the inherent value in the materials chosen for review. It turns out that not all materials are equally valuable, so we were able to use needs-assessment tools to help set priorities That was the first, I think, significant contribution.

Along the way, especially in the 80s, book preservation in particular was very much single-object focused, single-book focused, coming out of a rare books environment. We found ourselves needing to take a collection-wide approach in order to care for the very large retrospective general collections held by all research libraries . So we contributed to the development of the collections approach to conservation, especially in the world of books. That led to some national training that we provided for the field—“we” meaning Berkeley. It brought people together from all over the country to figure out how to better address the needs of collections as a whole, and to think more broadly than the classic, book-by-book approach that had come out of the conservation world.

PV: Did you combine this with the idea of assessing needs on a collection level?

BO: Yes. The two were working in tandem, because the tools that we had—CALIPR being the notable one from that era—enabled us to make administrative decisions about what was most important, not on a book-by-book level, but collection by collection. We could tell that X percent of a collection was very valuable and needed a certain kind of treatment. And so we were able to focus our resources on collections using those tools, in particular CALIPR.

PV: And CALIPR uses random sampling.

BO: CALIPR uses random sampling. Rather than inventorying the entire collection, it takes a sample, either one hundred or four hundred items, depending on how much precision you need in your estimates, and on the basis of that sample provides enough information for administrative decision-making.

PV: So that was a tool you introduced through the CPP?

BO: Yes, as a matter of fact.

PV: But you were applying it here….

BO: The tool was actually developed and published in 1991. And then it was used widely in California, and led to the development of the legislation that I talked about earlier. And when the California Preservation Program started in 2001, it used CALIPR as its primary needs-assessment tool—and still does I might add.

PV: And you developed it for audiovisual materials?

BO: Yes, in 2005 or 2006, the CPP realized that it needed to address audiovisual materials in California, and CALIPR was modified to make it applicable to audiovisual materials. So once again, you take a random sample from the collection. And on the basis of the information taken from the sample, you estimate the needs of the collection as a whole, which can be very effective at raising awareness in administrative quarters around the need to take action, and the risk of losing the state’s audiovisual heritage.

PV: And have you seen things change over the past few years? Of course your perspective is much wider than that, so you’re welcome to talk about any changes.

BO: Throughout my thirty years?

PV: You have a good perspective.

BO: I think the advent of the digital world has been the largest change. But in some ways it’s actually enhanced our preservation mandate because the service life of most of the media, especially paper, was long enough that most people were able to conveniently ignore the fact that preservation needed to be done over the long-term. So instead they could focus on acquisition and public service and not pay attention to the preservation of the collection.

But as soon as digital documents started becoming an important part of the library collection, almost immediately the need to do preservation became very clear. In some ways, that awareness of the need to preserve things digitally is also helping us communicate the importance of preserving other media. In addition to that, I think that the availability of materials online has made more materials known than were known before and that has also contributed to the need to do preservation. Once digitized, documents in this institution that may not have been used by any local users find an audience on a worldwide basis that change the perspective of everyone with regard to the need to preserve them. So we now find ourselves benefitting from the digital environment in the analog preservation world because more and more materials are discovered and are valued in a way that they weren’t when access was a purely local phenomenon.

PV: There’s more of a demand.

BO: Yes, there is more demand.

PV: And has that affected the tools that you previously developed for needs assessment. Have you factored in this new digital world?

BO: We don’t have a tool that satisfactorily evaluates the preservation needs of digital collections, [though] we’re working on it. A new approach we’re taking to preservation assessment is what sometimes is called a risk-management approach rather than a preservation-needs approach. And I think that digital collections fit well into that approach because the risk-assessment approach looks at the various kinds of risk of loss. And unlike the analog environment, losses in the digital environment can be very subtle. There’s no clue it’s going to happen in advance, so you have to use a lot of statistical data to determine when to take preservation actions; if you wait for your own collection to demonstrate or indicate that it needs action it may be too late. So I’m hoping that taking a risk-management approach to digital materials will be as effective as a preservation-needs assessment for analog collections.

The tool we’re working on at the moment has the acronym of PRISM, which stands for Preservation Risk Information System Model. I think that it might benefit the field if we can collect enough data—this is the actuarial, or insurance claims data—to enable us to populate the instrument and make it a serviceable tool for libraries and archives to determine their own risks of loss, in both analog and digital collections.

PV: That’s great, that’s exciting.

BO: Yes, it’s exciting.

PV: So what do you think leads to the creation of positions such as yours in libraries and archives?

BO: I would like to think that need is the primary reason why positions are created. And of course need plays a role. But fashion has also played a very significant role. If you look at the development of preservation programs in libraries over the last hundred years, you will see very little action in terms of numbers until the early 80s, when, thanks to federal funding and federal awareness of the need, lots of research libraries were suddenly developing preservation programs and getting started. So, I just simply have to acknowledge that fashion plays a role, and that awareness is a collective phenomenon. For a long while there was little awareness of preservation, then there was a lot of awareness of preservation, and then the collective awareness turned its attention to something else. And preservation is no longer as popular as it was, other than in the digital environment.

PV: Right. We have to capitalize on the fashion. I think it’s an interesting age where people demand access, but then we have to be that voice of reason to let people know that there is a process behind the access, that you have to have preservation first. So that’s the only link that we can make that’s clear for the common person to understand.

BO: Certainly there would be no access without preservation. But at the same time, access justifies doing preservation, and preservation enables access. So I think it’s a reinforcing cycle, where preservation and access are both essential, and they’re essential to each other. And I hope that we can educate the rest of the population to think similarly.

PV: I think that’s a good, positive note to almost end on. I have one last question . . . . Well, actually, there is one I forgot. Linking back to the challenges [we discussed earlier], what are the obstacles to positions like yours being created?

BO: I think the primary obstacle is funding. Most major libraries and archives now realize they need to do much more in the way of preservation than they ever have, but they simply don’t have the resources to meet current needs as well as the long-term access that preservation facilitates. That’s not to say that with additional resources preservation would be at the top of the list. However, unlike when I started thirty years ago, preservation is considered an important function in the libraries and archives—just as important as cataloging and public service and acquisition. And that’s a huge step forward because thirty years ago it was the activity you engaged in if you could get soft money to do it. Now most preservation programs are largely funded by their own institution’s operating budget. So in a generation, or a generation and a half, I think we’ve come a long way.

PV: Do you have any advice on how to build a preservation program for audiovisual materials specifically? Because your experience is rooted in the paper world, and I feel like there are a lot of lessons we can learn from that experience.

BO: Because it was so successful in the analog world, I would begin with letting use drive what gets preserved. That way we preserve things that people actually want, as opposed to things we think they ought to want. And I think that would go a long way to getting programs up and running. The initial challenge is to get enough stuff available so that people will develop a taste and an interest in having access to historical AV recordings. But perhaps with this project and others like it, we may be successful in wedding not only society’s appetite, but the academy’s appetite, which has classically been a print-document-oriented culture.

PV: And what needs to change about the status of audiovisual preservation specialists in libraries and what is working well?

BO: I think the primary issue is not changing anything relative to the specialists, but creating awareness of the importance of the material itself. We have preservation programs that can easily be expanded to accommodate AV. We have specialists—not enough, should demand grow—but enough to get started with populating the positions. But the lack of awareness of the importance of audiovisual materials is the primary hurdle we have to get over. And that’s not necessarily something that audiovisual conservators can address on their own. They’ll have to work with the preservation community at large to try to increase the awareness of the importance of the materials.

PV: And do you think anything is working well?

BO: At the moment, I think that there’s certainly interest in the grant-making community in audiovisual recordings. So that’s working well. I think that there’s also a growing awareness in the community at large that these are important documents and need to be preserved as much as printed or manuscript documents. It’s perhaps ironic and unfortunate that we’re in an economic downturn right now so that makes it very difficult to get traction and get started.

Perhaps a silver lining in that cloud would be to say that the quality of preservation we’d like to do stresses the limits of our technology currently. If the materials themselves can survive for another few years, perhaps the technology will have caught up sufficiently to deal with the very large digital output that we get when we try to preserve these materials. So it may well be that a relatively slow approach is to our advantage, both in terms of letting us figure out problems before we make very large mistakes, and also in that it provides technology a chance to develop to handle the file sizes that we want to have for preservation purposes.

PV: Going back to your initial thought that grant agencies seem to be recognizing the value of the content, they also need to recognize that we need infrastructure to support these activities. And I guess that’s another challenge—to find funding resources for that particular type of development.

BO: In addition to the funds needed to convert materials from analog to digital form, perhaps something that’s new with digital preservation are ongoing maintenance costs much higher than we’ve experienced in the paper-based world. So that the costs of doing digital preservation in addition to the conversion costs are a whole new dimension and a very challenging one with regard to building our future programs.

PV: Is there anything else you wanted to say about the field or your experiences? Other words of advice?

BO: I could venture to say that I think we will need to spend an increasingly large percentage of our time helping the scholars, students, and citizens of our country make decisions about what we’re going to preserve. I don’t see that decision-making process or the thinking behind it developing elsewhere in the library and archives community. So my hope is that as a preservation community we will be able to contribute to that dialogue and to the development of those criteria, or those standards, or the way of thinking that will enable us to make better decisions about what we preserve and what we choose not to preserve over the course of time.

PV: And how do you think we can build a relationship like that?

BO: Part of our ability to do that is in showing people the value of taking the use-based approach that we have, because it works very well in the short-term and I think it could contribute to the long-term strategy too. I also think that the tools we build for risk assessment and needs assessment will position us to have a place at the table when those discussions take place. I do think this relationship is fundamentally a collections-development challenge. But preservation is an important part of the development process since fundamentally it addresses the issue of what continues to survive when materials reach the end of their shelf lives. Collection development has not historically had to worry about that, but now that preservation is becoming a larger and larger issue, I think that part of our role will be to inform and encourage collection development staff to pay more attention to the life-cycle process in addition to the acquisition process.

PV: Sounds ambitious, but a start.

BO: Right.

PV: Well, thank you for your time.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)