Bridging the Divide Between Digital and Physical Preservation

What is involved in digitizing and preserving a digital surrogate of a physical object, such as a map? The Library of Congress highlights this complex process with a short video that describes the processes involved in preserving the Waldseemüller Map in both physical and digital formats.

Why did the librarians and conservators at the Library of Congress use this map to illustrate the bridge between physical and digital preservation? Because the map was revolutionary for its time. It was, for example, the first map to call America, “America”.

Waldseemüller’s map supported Vespucci’s revolutionary concept by portraying the New World as a separate continent, which until then was unknown to the Europeans. It was the first map, printed or manuscript, to depict clearly a separate Western Hemisphere, with the Pacific as a separate ocean. The map represented a huge leap forward in knowledge, recognizing the newly found American landmass and forever changing the European understanding of a world divided into only three parts—Europe, Asia, and Africa.


The video discussing the library’s work to bridge the physical and digital formats of the map is below. Yes, you will have to scroll to the right and down to find the video. (Geek talk: The Library of Congress apparently does not want to make embed code available, and I could not figure out how to link directly to the video, even after I examined the HTML source code. I apologize for the video display format in this blog.) You may see the “scroll-bar” free version of the video on the Library of Congress’ web site.

If you’d like to see the map itself, please go to the Library of Congress’ online reading room.

As the library notes in the voice over, “digital preservation requires active management to ensure the ongoing integrity and accessibility of content.” In addition, they write:

Collections at the Library of Congress consist not only of material objects but also of digital files. In some cases, material objects are scanned, which creates a digital copy.

The Waldseemuller Map is not only preserved in a special case to slow its aging, it has been scanned and its digital copy is online for anyone to access and explore. The Library has also created advanced multispectral images that are crucial for fully understanding the physical map and for monitoring its conservation.

This video compares the physical and digital preservation of the Waldseemuller Map.

They also point out in the video that the physical map is immutable, while the digital version will be migrated across different formats as technology changes.

I work in this field, so for me, the interest area was the actual object the librarians used to highlight how they bridge the differences between physical and digital preservation. I would love to see the map in person!

Did you learn anything new? What do you think about the different work involved in preserving a digital object vs. its physical form?

[Via the Library of Congress’ Digital Preservation Newsletter.]

Jewel Ward
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Jewel Ward

Founder and Consultant at Impact Zone Consultancy
Nice to meet you! I am Jewel Ward, founder of Impact Zone. Our specialties are search engine optimization and digital stewardship for creative industry websites.

We work hard to serve our clients’ needs so they can solve their technology problems. Our goal is to enable our creative clients to succeed digitally in whatever form success means to them.

Here are three fun facts about me. I consider coffee and chocolate food groups. I am an INFJ. I love longboard surfing.
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