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Volume: 2 | Article ID: art00045
Real Time, Deep Time, Life Time: Spanning Digital and Traditional Collections Life Cycles
  DOI :  10.2352/issn.2168-3204.2005.2.1.art00045  Published OnlineJanuary 2005

The starting point for this paper is the philosophy and practical application of life cycle collection management being developed by the British Library and by other institutions around the world.From a stewardship perspective, the British Library is trying to take a format-neutral approach to the care and custodianship of its collections. Identifying the similarities between traditional and digital collections and bridging gaps in the preservation differences between traditional and digital collections is a significant cultural and technical challenge.Life cycle collection management is a way of taking a long-term approach to the responsible stewardship of any collection. It defines the different stages in a collection item's existence over time, ranging from selection and cataloguing through to preventive conservation, storage and retrieval. It then seeks to identify the costs of each stage in order to show the economic interdependencies between the phases over time. It thereby aims to demonstrate the long-term consequences of what a library takes into its collections, by making explicit the financial and other implications of decisions made at the beginning of the life cycle for the next 100 plus years. This can be used for practical reasons (by individual curators and selectors) and for economic, governance and political purposes.The paper outlines the latest developments in the life cycle approach to the British Library's traditional and digital collections. The preliminary findings about the traditional paper-based collections were presented at the LIBER conference in Rome in 2003. The early application of the approach to the management of digital collections (namely digitised masters) was presented at the National Preservation Office/Kings College London conference in London later that year. Current strands include potential application to the web archiving programme and to both major and minor digitisation projects and the development of a predictive data tool.A recent development on the digital side is the collaborative partnership between the British Library and University College London in the JISC-funded LIFE project (“Lifecycle Information for E-literature”) begun in early 2005. It is anticipated that there will be an emphasis on the life cycle of electronic and print journals, and on the real-time pilot of electronic material received under voluntary legal deposit.A recent development on the traditional side is that one of the overarching themes to emerge from an international meeting convened by the British Library (funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation) aimed at setting an Applied Conservation Research framework for libraries and archives in the UK was the life cycle of collections. This spanned the deterioration mechanisms of paper- and parchment-based collections (including the natural ageing of materials and evaluation of past preservation strategies and techniques used in conservation); real-time predictive modelling of the effects of the environment and other agents of deterioration on collections; and the past and future life cycle of use.These new UK developments in the life cycle approach to traditional and digital collections are put in the context of wider advances in the subject being developed in Europe and North America.Throughout, developments and ideas that span the management of both traditional and digital collections are highlighted. Given that much of the evidence points to our being in a transition phase, an elision of life cycle management of digital and traditional formats would seem the logical aspiration. There is not necessarily a tension between paper/print and digital, but rather that they are increasingly interdependent and increasingly complementary. Similarly, there is not necessarily always a tension between preservation and access, but they can be complementary, with a critical starting point for preservation being the future usability of collections.The emphasis throughout is on the need for the stewardship of digital and traditional collections to confidently focus on Deep Time and the “Long Now” as opposed to the short-term and immediate expediency. The aim is to confidently steward organic and inorganic, dynamic collections.

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Helen Shenton, "Real Time, Deep Time, Life Time: Spanning Digital and Traditional Collections Life Cyclesin Proc. IS&T Archiving 2005,  2005,  pp 206 - 214,

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