Records in Ruins: Preservation and Conservation of Archaeological Heritage

By Gabryelle Iaconetti

On November 26, 2018, I had the pleasure of attending a conference at Pointe-à-Callière Museum in old Montreal entitled “La conservation du patrimoine culturel: Archeologie et monuments anciens”, translating to “The conservation of cultural heritage: Archaeology and ancient monuments.” This conference was organized in honour of 2018’s European Year of Cultural Heritage in partnership with multiple cultural institutions across Canada and Europe. The speakers present were Massimo Osanna from Italy, Jean-Marc Mignon from France, Pilar Fatas from Spain, Franziska Fecher from Germany, Gerda Koch from Austria, Hendrik Van Gijseghem and Louise Pothier from the hosting museum, and James Woollett and Julien Riel-Salavatore from Canada. The aforementioned presenters come from different cultural heritage institutions with research interests in a variety of archaeological sites worldwide.

As a future information professional with an educational background in classics, I had always wondered how I could incorporate my interest and passion for the ancient world with that of archives and the preservation of information. That question was easily answered by the professionals and academics who spoke about their work in the field at this conference. In fact, several of the presentations incorporated many aspects of archives, data management, digital preservation and information dissemination. For the purposes of remaining succinct, I will only recount the findings from the presentations which I believe are the most applicable to the information field.

Massimo Osanna kicked off the event with his case study on conservation and preservation efforts at Pompeii. Pompeii is one of the most famous and important cities of the ancient world. Excavations began in 1748, and conservation and preservation efforts are ongoing. However, a major issue that is currently being tackled by academics studying Pompeii is the lack of record-keeping and archiving of previous excavations. Without the maintenance of archives and records, it is difficult for excavators and scholars to understand the use of materials for restoration efforts at Pompeii. With the use of photogrammetry and laser scans of the site, there has been a new informatic archive implementated, as well as better documentation. Additionally, there have been efforts put towards the digitization of the Pompeii photographic archives. These new emphases on documentation and record-keeping of excavation activities will certainly aid in the preservation of knowledge within the archaeological community.

It was obvious from the reports of the presenters that there are tremendous steps being made in the areas of digital archaeology, and how it pertains to the preservation of cultural heritage. This was emphasised by James Woollet’s penultimate presentation about the risks to archaeological sites due to climate change. Ultimately, we have limited time before a number of sites are destroyed by rising sea levels and lost for good. Archaeological sites are of extreme value to those studying history, classics, and other humanities disciplines, which makes it all the more urgent to preserve their existence, even in digital form. Franziska Fecher’s presentation was heavily focused on digital archaeology practices at sites in the Honduras, namely Copan and Guadalupe. Much like Pompeii, the archaeologists working at the Honduran sites make sure of photogrammetry and laser scans to document current states of the sites, and to be able to later digitally reconstruct them for analysis and preservation. This is incredibly important as these digital scans allow researchers to analyze and manipulate these models in order to gain better understanding of archaeological structures and artifacts.

Gerda Koch’s presentation on Europeana proved to be a big hit with me personally, as it focused on many of the concepts of preservation and information dissemination that I have learned thus far in the MISt program. Europeana is a digital initiative that ensures online access to digital information collected from libraries, archives and museums across Europe. One can access millions of records through Europeana. Some of its great qualities include searchability by metadata, curated collections of content, growth of thematic collections, and online exhibitions. There are over 2 million archaeological objects on Europeana, which goes to show how crucial preservation of these cultural heritage materials are. There is an incredible amount of things I can say about Europeana, but it would be more beneficial for anyone interested in European heritage to check out their website for themselves and discover what their collection has to offer.

Attending this conference was an incredibly enriching experience and has strengthened my resolve to continue my own research in information science with regard to archaeological heritage. It is undeniable that the two fields intersect at crucial points, and it is relieving to see that consideration for the proper preservation of archaeological heritage is being taken seriously. As the field continues to evolve, and more information is being collected, so too should our methods for adequate preservation and record-keeping of these very important cultural heritage materials.

Technically Sound

By Michael Stewart

To this day, the wise words of professor Jamshid Beheshti ring clearly in my head (for all those who had GLIS601 with him in Fall 2017 or before, I will do my best to paraphrase him); ‘do you really think you are going to be paid the big bucks with your master’s degree to stock shelves or catalogue? No, you will be managers!’. As true as this statement is, it does raise another issue. If we are not the ones ‘stocking shelves’ or ‘cataloguing’, then who will? Where will these people come from and if we are to be managers, how are we to recognize them?

Here enters the role of library and information technicians. Information technicians are highly skilled and in high demand in information organization including document centres, archives, special libraries, and beyond. In Quebec, the training of these technicians falls under the responsibilities of CEGEPs and there are currently 6 institutions scattered around the province which offer a Technique de la Documentation program. Of those 6 schools, there is only one who offers the program in English and (surprise, surprise) it is right here in Montreal.

John Abbott College (johnabbott.qc.ca) is one of 8 English-language public colleges in the province and the only one to offer the Information and Library Technologies (ILT) program. It is a 3-year technical degree, however there is a 2-year intensive stream offered for anyone who already holds a CEGEP diploma (DEC). By the end of their time in the program, ILT students will have learned several hard skills and be more proficient in the day-to-day operations of a library than any of us in the MISt program. I had the chance to sit down with one of the program’s instructors, Esther Szeben (McGill, MLIS ’99), and talk about the program as well as her professional and educative journey.

MS: Can you tell me a little bit about the Information and Library Technologies program and your position in the program?

ES: Our program is very comprehensive. We are trying to prepare technicians to work in libraries or record centres to support information management and work in conjunction with librarians. Our students graduate with a lot of concrete skills. For example, they take three classification courses and two cataloguing courses… when they graduate, they really know where to place everything. They come out and they know tangibly what to do with a record, a file, a CD, etc. They know how to descriptively catalogue it, they know how to download the MARC record and integrate it into the library system. They get a number of computer courses. They know HTML, they can create web-sites, they can do advanced PowerPoint presentations, they know the majority of the large integrated library systems like Koha and Regard, they can create a relational database in Access, etc.

MS: Roughly how many students come into the program every year?

ES: This year I believe there were about 27 new students. It is a small program but growing. In the program they need to do their general education classes (English, French, Physical Education, etc.), and then they have the core program courses. Last year about 18 students graduated and half of them had job offers before graduation in June. Some are working in academic libraries at Concordia and McGill, they are working in school libraries, some are in special libraries (e.g. law libraries, the Federal Space Agency).

MS: What would the professional relationship be between a graduate from your program and a MISt graduate?

ES: You will work in parallel, you will work together. They will be your cataloguer and so on. The librarian will have to know the macro of how the library is set up while the technicians will know the micro. These students are specialists in the hands-on tasks of an information center. I couldn’t catalogue to save my life, but these students come out of this program having perfected the art of cataloguing.

Another thing we do teach is communications. Some of our students might have chosen this field because they are shy, but they will still have to effectively communicate with suppliers, sometimes with patrons, and for sure with the librarians. So, we feel communication skills are very important too.

MS: So, do you teach teaching? With information literacy being very important now, do you show your students how to teach others to use information services?

ES: It is covered in a few courses. Our program is currently going through a revision and I can tell you that information literacy is slatted as a new course. We have a consulting committee which meets twice a year and we meet with librarians from academia, special and school libraries, and other institutions to see what is happening; to get our finger on the pulse of what is going on. Through these discussions it has been resolved that IL and education instruction is going to have to be a focus for our program.

MS: Could you tell me more about your position in the program?

ES: I teach reference courses. I teach a class called “Documents and their Producers”. It is a third-year course which focuses on the publishing industry. We look at traditional publishing and now with the advent of self-publishing and open source we talk about those too. We also talk about the government as a producer of information. They understand the structure of the government, where to find information about the House of Commons and the Senate, once a bill becomes a law where do they find the consolidated statutes and all those very exciting things. They also learn where to find and how to use the various [Statistics Canada] products like the consumer price index, the census, and the daily bulletins so that they can manipulate the data that is out there which the government manages.

MS: You have had professional experiences in many information fields, what advice could you give to a MISt student?

ES: My advice is this: if you are able to, study part-time and work, in the field, part-time. Academia is good, but we do not want to only become a cog in the assessment machine (hear, learn, test, assess, write a paper, etc.). It is very difficult to absorb and integrate knowledge in such a system. My first year in MLIS I did full-time and then I went down to part-time and got to work in a pharmaceutical library. I got to put the theory which I was learning in class into practice.

Also, I wouldn’t have known that I wanted to work in a library and do reference until I tried it. I finished my undergrad and had some experience as an information professional but never in a library. I assumed my natural path would be continuing in research and knowledge management. But once I tried academic library reference, I fell in love with it and that is where I have spent most of my professional career. I guess I am saying, try everything and anything. Some people are really lucky and fall upon their dream job right away, but my experience is that ultimately it is a crap-shoot. If you see a position, apply and try it out. You never know. I have worked in public libraries, corporate libraries, record centers, fundraising, academia, and now here. When I saw this position, I knew it was for me and I love it here; but I have learned something from every professional experience which has led me to this place.

MS: Is there anything else to add?

ES: I miss my days at Thomson House…? Those were good times!

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