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Wednesday at the Folger

posted Mar 1, 2012, 8:58 PM by Sarah Wingo

Tomorrow will be my last day at the Folger for ASB, and it has been a fantastic whirlwind. However, I haven’t yet provided a full update for Wednesday and Thursday so I will try to do Wednesday here and follow up shortly with Thursday.   


As I’ve mentioned before I am continuously impressed by and grateful for how generous the staff of the Folger has been with their time.  On Wednesday we met with Georgiana Ziegler Head of Reference, Deborah J. Leslie Head of Cataloging and with Jim to discuss how the Folger handles digital preservation.


Meeting with Georgiana: For those reading this who may not be familiar with librarianship reference is, to risk over simplifying it, the person who tends to be behind the desk in a library.  They do a lot of behind the scenes work too, but they are essentially the first resource and main contact for individuals using a library. Georgiana talked to us about her job, what had brought her to her work both generally and specifically at the Folger.  I’m not ultimately sure if reference work is something that would interest me in the long run, but I do really love the concept of being so involved in assisting other people with their research.  I’ve always loved helping people find answers and in that way reference really appeals to me. 


Meeting with Deborah: Deborah is in charge of cataloging at the Folger which is the department I have been working in this week.  Although I hadn’t fully realized when I applied for my project that it was so cataloging heavy, I have been pleasantly surprised by the experience. In fact I am seriously considering looking into rare book and manuscript cataloging as a possible area to focus my career.  I honestly didn’t know very much about cataloging before this week, but in some ways I think it would allow me to work more closely with materials than processing archives would. In archival work you end up doing a lot of collection or box level descriptions, which means that you aren’t actually looking at the individual items in a collection, but rather at a broad overview of the collection.  As a cataloger you do item in hand cataloging and finding aid creation, and as a rare book and manuscript cataloger you get to work closely with the items in your collection.  This is very appealing to me and I am going to try to seek out more experience in this area during my time at SI.  Deborah and several of the other catalogers are taking me out to lunch tomorrow so I am looking forward to picking their brains about their jobs and also asking how I might situate myself to get cataloging jobs, should I choose to do so.


Digital Preservation: Digital preservation is difficult, it is still a developing concept and the technology is having trouble keeping up with all of the digitally produced information in the world.   Here's an easy way to think about it, if you take a book and put it in a clean cool environment that has low humidity and low light and leave it there, it will  easily last several hundred years without you having to do anything. Technology does not work this way, hard drives fail, file formats become obsolete and CDs and DVDs quickly deteriorate etc. etc. etc.  Innovations are being made all the time, but there is still no one set way, no surefire process. The other issue is that a lot of the institutions that offer digital preservation do not make it easy to understand, and if something isn’t easy to understand people will not fully utilize it. 

The Folger is actively working to get digital copies of its collection housed on site and well as off site, but it seems that right now their primary focus is digitization for access. This makes sense in a lot of ways because most of their materials that the Folger is concerned with are not born digital (files created on computers) they are rare books and manuscripts.   By digitizing these works they accomplish two tasks, one they can reduce handling of items because people can view them digitally and do not necessary need to see the physical copy. The less items are handled the less wear and tear they experience. The other main function that digitizing can facilitate is access. By putting texts into digital format more people can access them around the world, people who might not be able to visit them in person.  I should note that although digitization can mean that an item will get handled less, sometimes digitizing it can actually lead to more requests to view an item because it gains more visibility. In such cases the Folger asks that an individual view the digital item first and only view the physical item of their research requires it.  


If you’re interested in taking a look at some digitized books, you can check out the Folger’s online database at or Early English Books Online (EEBO, for short) Both websites can be a lot of fun just to browse around.


The main offices in the Folger are situated around this central area. Most of the books you see behind me are reference books. The offices and work space are all really beautiful.