“Technology has had most of the attention in digital preservation but it is the least of our concerns,” said Anne R. Kenney. That’s a bold declaration. But Kenney has earned the right to make it, based on her 25 years at Cornell University Library, conducting ground-breaking digital research, creating award-winning training resources and fostering national and international digital-library partnerships.
Kenney talked with me about her career, casually tossing out details that hinted at deeper, monumental volumes of work and struggle; at project outcomes that influenced the worldwide library and archive community; and at lessons learned the hard way, through trial and error. She began her career rescuing decaying books by converting their contents to microfilm; these days she is trying to rescue scholarship itself from the unique and daunting institutional challenges that are emerging in the digital age.
Kenney started working at Cornell University library in 1987 in their newly founded preservation program and took on the massive Brittle Books Program, converting books – made of slowly decaying acidic paper – to microfilm. Though microfilm was widely accepted as a reasonable storage medium, Kenney became intrigued by a high-speed printer from Xerox as a possible preservation alternative. “I’d looked at scanning a little bit before that and the quality didn’t rival microfilm or photocopy,” said Kenney. “But the scanner they developed to complement their high-speed printer was doing quick scanning and at the 600 dpi level.”
She dove into research on digital-imaging technology (which is what scanning is) to see if it could capture book facsimiles better than film. Kenney said, “I started looking at how one could translate microfilm requirements — as in how many line pairs per millimeter — to equivalencies in dots per inch.” She experimented with problematic fonts to determine which technology could faithfully reproduce them. She studied printing technologies of the 19th and early 20th century until finally she found her “lab rat” font.