In the News

Life happened the past few weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here on Cultural Heritage and Information. Today I thought I’d post some interesting stories from around the web that relate to topics here on the blog.

HathiTrust Digital Library Wins Latest Round in Battle With Authors

With new publishing technologies and research practices, the copyright debates will continue to evolve in legal and other settings. The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a summary (by Jennifer Howard) on June 10th about the latest developments in the HathiTrust Digital Library vs. Authors Guild case. Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (in New York) decided for the library. Its decision will allow a searchable, full-text database of the Library’s works under the “fair use” clause, and will also allow dissemination of works in different formats for vision-impaired users.

What happens When Preservation and Innovation Collide?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation reflects on two years of innovation strategy development with EmcArts’ Innovation Lab for Museums. In the post (by Estevan Rael-Galvez), they share their ideas, challenges, and successes. Most interesting, in my opinion, is their idea to transition traditional historic house museums (which I adore), from static contrived experiences to more integrated, immersive experiences that stimulate all the senses of visitors.

Bit Rot: The Limits of Conservation discussed (in a post by Martha Buskirk on June 9) how time affects access and preservation of electronic media. The article supports “lots of copies keep stuff safe” as a general strategy to work toward in preservation and conservation of cultural and art artifacts. It also describes common obstacles, such as getting artists’ input on migration to new technologies, obsolescence of older technologies, copyright issues, determining in what aspects of the works the value lies, and the consequences of benign neglect. Best practice? Awareness and vigilance about what we want to save, and what has value to us.

How difficult can your manuscripts be?

The National Conservation Service in the UK blogged about some challenges that crop up when digitizing manuscripts. Some issues they faced during the digitization process for Khojki manuscripts from the Institute of Ismaili Studies include illegible text located in awkward places (e.g., the gutters), curved and warped pages, and ink degradation.

World Cups

Just for fun, I’m sharing the Horniman Museum and Gardens‘ World Cup tie-in, about a digital exhibit they created on cups from around the world (“world cups”… get it?). Cups from locations such as Burma, China, Japan, Indonesia, and Colombia feature in the exhibit.


Water usage/shortage: an infographic


Do you know how much water you use every day? How much can you save?



I’m going to get started saving more water today.

Profile of a Cultural Heritage Institution Interlude: The Folger Shakespeare Library

Why the Folger Shakespeare Library?

I had not planned to profile the Folger originally, but I have recently researched it for other purposes, which led to the discovery that it is a unique and interesting cultural heritage institution, and that it would add diversity to my current profiles.

The Basics

Mission: “To preserve and enhance its collections; to render the collections, in appropriate formats, accessible to scholars; and to advance understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s writings and of the culture of early modern Europe more generally through various programs designed for all students and for the general public.

The History

  • 1879: Henry Folger was inspired by a lecture given by Ralph Waldo Emerson at Amherst College.
  • Emily Folger, inspired by her husband’s interest, earned a master’s degree from Vassar for a thesis on “The True Text of Shakespeare.”
  • 1932: The Folger is founded by Henry Clay Folger and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger.
  • 1948: The trustees appointed as director Louis B. Wright, who had recently transformed the Huntington Library into a modern research center.
  • 1969: The trustees appointed as director O.B. Hardison, Jr., a professor of English literature at the University of North Carolina, who developed the Folger’s Elizabethan Theatre, into a functioning playhouse for the newly formed Folger Theatre Group.

The Programming

  • Exhibitions – “Very Like a Whale” is the latest, which “showcases the lively world of the Renaissance imagination and the uniquely human ability to interpret a single object in multiple ways.” The title of this exhibit is appropriately taken from a scene in Hamlet, when Hamlet and his advisor Polonius disagree about their different interpretations of cloud shapes. It attempts to answer the question: “What did the the world look like to people during the Renaissance?”
  • Theater – “The Conference of the Birds” is nearing its end. “A theatrical adventure soars in this poignant 12th century Persian fable about the search for the divine”. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night, providing increased access to individuals who may not have the means otherwise. There are Pre- and Post-Show Talks about the show.
  • Lectures – Have included the Elizabethan Garden Tour, DEBORAH HARKNESS! On early modern London, and one on Shakespeare in Kabul.
  • Poetry
  • Education Programs – for primary and secondary schools classes (I remember my trip in either 5th grade or 9th grade), performance workshops and Shakespeare Festivals
  • Family Programs – Shake up your Saturdays! Programs that “provide a morning of history, activity, performance, and fun!”
  • Concerts – Christmas music of Florence in the Trecento! Enchanting. With a free pre-conference discussion.

Collections and Research

  • The Folger is the home of the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials and of major collections of other Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art.
  • It serves researchers, visitors, teachers, students, families, and theater- and concert-goers.
  • It is a world-renowned research center on Shakespeare and the early modern age in the West.
  • Its conservation lab is a leading innovator in the preservation of rare materials.
  • The collections are meant to be actively used, which indicates a leaning toward access in the tug of war between access and preservation, but the materials’ rarity, age, and fragility are clearly respected.

The Conservation Lab

  • Folger’s conservators collaborate closely with its curators, which is a growing trend but not yet common, according to Dr. Miriam Clavir, who discussed the importance of collaboration between these two groups of professionals in her talk about Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance.
  • As with most North American institutions, the conservation efforts at Folger are concentrated on stopping further deterioration from occurring, instead of on restoring items to an earlier state, although that is also done in some cases.
  • Folger has an advanced conservation internship program.
  • It pioneers and develops new conservation technologies.
  • One recent project was to conserve the structure of a popular Polish herbal, printed in 1534, to which were added patches in places, which were then written over as readers made notes. Conservation work has included separating the patches, repairing the damaged pages, and then re-adhering the patches on Japanese paper hinges.

The Impact of Changing Technologies and Informatics

  • The online exhibit “Discover Shakespeare” include digitized images of important works, maps, and related materials (on the life of Shakespeare, his works, his theatre, etc.). I have seen more interactive digitized historical and rare materials, but the website does take advantage of the technologies available to present online exhibits.
  • The digital image collection offers online access to 50,000 images, including books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, art, and more. There appear to be more interactive and usability features in the digital collection than in the “Discover Shakespeare” section, including side-by-side viewing, export thumbnails, the ability to view cataloging information, and even the ability to construct permanent links to images and searches.
  • Digital collections use Luna Insight.
  • Folger Bindings Image Collection (drool)
  • Union First Line Index: a union catalog enabling researchers to search English verse collections of seven prestigious institutions in the US and the UK.
  • Online Catalog named Hamnet.
  • Ask a Librarian – Reference questions online.
  • RSS feeds
  • On every webpage, there is a social media button that allows sharing of the web content on many different social media platforms.

The Summary

Throughout its 80-year history, the Folger Shakespeare Library has benefited from a relatively narrow focus, and from its trustees’ and directors’ dedicated interest in creating a modern research center that provides access to rare materials and scholarly resources.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is unique among cultural heritage institutions for its programming, its conservation lab, and its wide-ranging online and digital offerings. Not many cultural heritage institutions that I am familiar with include a playhouse, a theater group, and iconic publications like the Folger Editions of Shakespeare. I love that their programming is so diverse and yet relevant to the Library’s collections and mission.

All in all the Folger has made very robust use of the technologies that allow institutions to share collections, resources, and programming online. I am very impressed. Although its mission and collections focus on the past, the Folger has incorporated new technologies into its resources to provide access to its historical collections with online exhibits, the union catalog it shares with other similar institutions, and its digital image collection. This cultural heritage institution seems to do very well straddling the responsibilities of preservation of historical cultural heritage and of the provision of access to that heritage for future generations in relevant and meaningful ways.

Lastly, how did I not know about the amazing programming available at the Folger when I last lived in D.C.? There are so many programs I’d like to take advantage of now that I’m moving back to the area.


Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved on 13 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). The collection. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). The Conference of the Birds. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Conservation. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Digital image collection. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Discover Shakespeare. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). History of the Folger. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Saving old notes in a Polish herbal. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Use the collection. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Very Like a Whale. Retrieved on 13 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Very Like a Whale (press release). Retrieved on 13 November 2012 from

Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance: Notes from a lecture and 11 questions to think about

Last week I attended a lecture by Dr. Miriam Clavir at the University of Toronto titled, “Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance.” – A lecture which raised lots of intriguing questions about value, conservation, and cultural heritage.

The following are some of my (spare) notes from the lecture. Do take special note (pun unintended) of the questions at the end of the post – of all my notes, those are the most important (in my humble opinion).

A Conservator’s Perspective

  • Not everything can be preserved
  • Focus on the materiality of artifacts/objects of cultural significance: physical, technical, chemical, and design attributes
  • Focus on materiality brings insight into cultural use, significance, of artifacts
  • Preservation’s purposes are to prevent deterioration and the potential for damage, as well as the potential for cultural misrepresentation/misunderstanding
  • Preservation vs. Access
  • Conservation as a social process, not just a technical process

Trend in “collecting institutions” toward collaborative relationships, especially among conservators and curators.


  • Different dimensions of meaning include:
    evidence of class structure; value aesthetics; materiality/physicality; materials; focus on identity
  • Not just knowledge-based meaning, but also emotional, artistic/formal/tactile, experiential, and identity meanings

Trend toward including considerations of cultural significance in the preservation and treatment of materials/artifacts.


  1. Who decides what is worth preserving?
  2. What is the purpose of conservation?
  3. Why don’t conservators consult with originators or creator societies/groups to ensure accurate treatment according to the values of the creator groups?
  4. Just because an artifact is in a museum, does it need to be preserved by a museum?
  5. How is the meaning or the life of an object conveyed to those removed from its original purpose/use?
  6. How far can conservators go to preserve the life, not just the existence, of an artifact?
  7. What are the tensions between serving a present population vs. a future population? (This was not my question, but I would add serving a past population, as well)
  8. What are the realities (in general terms) regarding relationships between curators and conservators? How would an ideal curator-conservator relationship look?
  9. What are the factors of success and failure in community engagement?
  10. Who owns cultural heritage?
  11. What are you preserving if you remove cultural significance from the equation in determining the value of a cultural artifact?

Interesting Thought

Today we move differently, hold ourselves differently, than our great-grandparents did, making it much easier for us to tear clothing made during our great-grandparents’ day.

Long Live Storage Media

By way of The Lighthouse.

The Lifespan of Storage Media

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