11.00  A Critical Eye in the Mirror: Building a North American Research Agenda on the Preservation of Intangible Heritage within Library and Information Science

Intangible cultural heritage is tightly coupled with material culture in a variety of ways. Learning traditional languages is helped by access to dictionaries, grammars, oral histories by native speakers and other written and recorded materials. Libraries, archives and museums have traditionally served as custodians of much of the material culture that might assist in the preservation of intangible heritage, but they also have not traditionally conceived of the preservation of the intangible as part of their mission. The museum community has, over the past few decades, begun to change in that regard, and museums such as the National Museum of the American Indian have explicitly committed themselves to supporting the continuation of forms of intangible heritage. The library and archives communities, however, have been somewhat slower to recognize a place for themselves in support of the preservation of intangible heritage. 

This paper will report on the outcome of a meeting among library and information science researchers and professionals, along with scholars and practitioners in the areas of performing arts, food studies, and paper conservation, to try to map out a research agenda on the preservation of intangible cultural heritage for the library and information science community. The rapid growth in the use of ICTs, and the concomitant rise in the creation and use of digital information, has presented numerous challenges to libraries and archives. Researching new approaches to the preservation of digital information has occupied the field of library and information science for nearly two decades. While much of this research has focused on technical aspects of maintaining the authenticity and integrity of digital information, scholars have also examined the sociotechnical aspects of libraries, archives and museums (LAMs), analyzing the social and institutional arrangements in which preservation activities occur and their impact on the sustainability of digital resources. Research on preservation of computer games, for example, has shown that much of the activity responsible for the preservation of these cultural artifacts has happened outside the institutional frameworks of LAMs in the hands of gaming enthusiasts, although LAMs also have contributed through preservation of materials that enthusiasts have drawn upon for knowledge. Such research raises the question of whether LAMS might better contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage if they cease to see themselves as centers for preservation activity, and instead ask the communities they serve how they might contribute to preservation of cultural heritage.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Assoc. Professor