We Just Keep On Keeping On

When the Collections Conservator, Melissa Tedone, and Head of Preservation, Hilary Seo began this blog eleven years ago, they announced the idea to the Internet with a seventy-four word post entitled “Coming Soon!” Melissa mentioned reasonable goals – regular posts about events, projects, and preservation topics – and vaguely referenced the act of “ironing out the logistical wrinkles of starting up a collaborative blog.” What were the logistical wrinkles that they addressed? What was the planning process like?

In the ensuing years, this blog grew organically. Contributors created new pages, and they organized posts and pages with ninety-nine categories and seventy-two tags. After the WordPress 5.0 software update some features looked awkward, but the theme did not change. Folks kept contributing great content, though. Experts described arcane techniques and elegant solutions, shared joyful occasions, and drew attention to curious items. This became a place where people told stories about the items in their care.

Late in 2020, the current Collections Conservator, Sonya Barron, proposed a site update. My current work involves meeting with people and providing decision-makers with resources and data in support of an institution-wide digital preservation program. While I put my management plan in place, my work is not at the purposeful project-driven state that I (and other preservationists) find so satisfying. A site update seemed like a great way to fill sporadic hour to two-hour long chunks of time in my schedule.

I enjoy routine maintenance for it is an excellent time to reflect on why we do what we do – the basic principle of preservation. Preservation is not an act of preserving a single state, it is an ongoing act of carrying forward the multiple states of an item’s existence. The present is continually writing over the past or as Heraclitus noted “into the same river you could not step twice, for other and still other waters are flowing.” Instead of resigning ourselves to the passage of time, preservation is a deliberate act of maintaining and carrying forward objects from the past. “We just keep on keeping on” Curtis Mayfield sang.

West Fork Des Moines River at Humboldt. The philosopher Heraclitus used the river as an allegory for the transient nature of experience, while the poet Curtis Mayfield noted that some people respond to this impermanence by keeping on.

During our initial conversation about a site update, Sonya and I chatted about our preservation values, and we considered our energy-level and motivation (this is maintenance in the time of COVID, after all). We decided to prioritize an update, and Sonya and I put our heads together to map out a plan for redesigning and reorganizing the blog. First we identified the purpose of the blog – community outreach – and used this to drive our priorities. Next we divided up responsibilities for tackling the many maintenance tasks that had been neglected over the years. Finally, we crafted a timeline for completing the tasks with an aesthetic change as the culminating task.


Sonya and I winnowed the list of pages to the few that would support outreach efforts, and we made plans to curate resource guides next year. Five main pages and six sub-pages remain:

  • Home – blog post feed with 3-5 most recent posts
  • About Us
    • Contact
    • Contributors
    • History
  • Training (formerly Lennox Foundation Fellowship)
  • Disaster Prep
    • Parks Library Disaster Plan (To be added)
    • Spring Thaw Tips
  • Resources (To be added)

These pages will provide us with predictable access to information that we regularly share with members of our community.

We created three new pages, reorganized some content, and made several pages private with plans to use the content in the resource guide. With the pages addressed, we turned our attention to our posts. Eleven years of blogging resulted in nearly 500 posts with thousands of links. Fortunately, we could automate some of this work. I wrote a Python script that returned a list of links with connection errors, and I updated these links by removing or redirecting the problem URLs.

We turned our attention next to the access points that allow us to filter and find our content. I exported all of the content from WordPress as an XML file. This provided me with the peace of mind that we retained unaltered content, although the versioning features of WordPress could also let us return to an earlier version of the blog. I imported the categories and the tags into an Excel workbook, and assessed each list.

A screenshot of an XML file.
A screenshot from an XML file that was exported from this WordPress site.

I think post authors randomly assigned categories and tags for I could not discern any formal ontology, and frankly the collection is too small for a formal subject list. We made plans to reduce the number of categories and to use tags to provide more granular access. As I removed categories, I manually added the label as a tag to preserve that access point. Currently, the list of categories is at sixteen, though we might split large categories. I documented the use of the current categories, and I will individually assess items in the broad categories of “Administrative,” “Collaboration,” and “Conservation.”

Another ongoing task will be to assign alt-tags to the meaningful images on our posts. While the blog is not technically a Digital Library, the design guidelines created to support BVI users proved helpful for understanding the navigation and use features that make our resources more accessible. Sonya prepared a brief guide for assigning alt-tags, and my colleagues and I will slowly chip away at this task over the next year.

Photograph of a work surface prepared for the production of endbands. Paper, cord, a pot of wheat starch paste, and lettering "Step One."
This image from an earlier blog post provides a visual description of a preservation technique. Alt-tags support a shared understanding of this technique.

The remaining tasks – theme update, color, font, and image selection – will have the most impact. Sonya and I will make these decisions while considering recommendations proposed in the design guidelines mentioned earlier. We’ll discuss our institution’s brand guidelines, and reference sites like Paletton’s Color Scheme Designer and Hex Naw to make purposeful decisions. By early February 2021 we will have the new site design in place. Coming Soon…

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