Mar 01 2002
A wide array of organizations and personnel acquire, organize, provide access to, and preserve cultural collections with long-term value. A public library may be charged with the care of a valuable local history collection. Historians and archivists may bring together objects, letters, or oral histories that document their community. College and university libraries gather scholarly materials, including electronic resources.
There are many different formats and media types found in libraries and archives, including paper, books, photographs, maps, magnetic recordings, film, and optical disks. Some are more permanent than others, but all are prone to deterioration over time. Without attention to the physical safety of collections, there is a serious risk of premature damage or loss.
Who Are the Experts?
Larger institutions may have a distinct preservation department responsible for collections care. One or more preservation administrators normally manage the preservation department. They possess at least a graduate degree in information studies, usually with a specialization in preservation administration. It takes many years of experience to effectively manage a multi-faceted preservation program. The preservation administrator will need to be knowledgeable in collections management; fundraising; safe lighting, exhibition and display; security and emergency response; environmental monitoring and control; pest and mold management; reformatting technologies; and proper storage and handling techniques.
Those who are already expert in the field may seek mid-career education or re-education in areas that are more recently important to the field, such as preservation of digital resources, or even business administration. Expected by summer 2002 is the 8th edition of ALA/ALCTS’ Preservation Education Directory. It will list preservation courses available at library schools in the United States, which should prove useful for advanced learners.
Bookbinders, book and paper conservators, or experts in caring for audio-visual collections may complement the administrator. Those whose main occupation is treatment or reformatting must be knowledgeable in materials manufacture and history, and have practiced skills to ensure sympathetic care. Some will have a graduate degree (for example, in art conservation); while others may come from apprenticeship programs. Collections conservators should have a strong background in science and/or art.
According to a recent survey of members of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) on continuing education, written materials are the most popular method of study, followed by attendance at hands-on workshops. The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education (SMCRE) offers a range of advanced preservation and conservation courses. Even after completing graduate work in conservation, it takes many years of study and practice to become expert in treatment. The AIC web site has two documents that describe selecting and becoming a conservator.
Preservation On a Shoestring
Smaller institutions often cannot afford preservation specialists on staff, and hiring one (even part-time) may not be feasible. Staff might notice when their collections are damaged or deteriorating and desire to improve the situation, but may not know where to get started.
The “Selected Resources,” below, include a few core print and online suggestions. In particular, the Regional Alliance for Preservation web site will lead to many excellent and current educational tools. Regional centers may be able to provide basic advice, information about workshops, leaflets on a range of related topics, treatment services, consulting services, and even emergency assistance.
Attendance at local or regional workshops is highly recommended. The person taking charge of collections should focus on preventive care activities. Basic programs on care and handling, preservation planning, controlling the environment, emergency planning and the nature of materials are a good place to start.
You may wish merely to take a course in repair, but remember that fixing items in the collection, then returning them to an inhospitable environment, may not be the best way of using limited resources for solving the problem. You might also consider participation in a more intensive preservation management course, such as those offered biennially by Rutgers University School of Communication, Information and Library Studies or the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts.
If you lack the ability or confidence to begin, a general needs assessment survey should be conducted of the building and collections. Funding for these types of surveys is supported by a number of states, regional centers, and national programs. The follow-up report should identify hazards to the collection and the corrective actions required, and prioritize steps necessary to achieve preservation goals. The expert conducting the survey, or the institutions they represent, can prove long-term allies to assist with problems and questions implementing a preservation program.
Whether you are assigned the preservation function as part of your job, or take a personal interest and want to do more, the multi- faceted nature of the field can be a challenge. The best advice is to start by learning about those activities that will have the most impact on improving the condition of your collection, using resources that are readily available. Other, more difficult (but worthy!) activities can be planned for later on. In the meantime, be sure to show others the positive side of making a few small changes, and don’t give up. Take another class, read an article, and be the preservation expert!
Banks, Paul N. and Roberta Pilette, eds. Preservation: Issues and Planning. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2000. A comprehensive planning textbook authored by leading experts in the field, this book presents an analysis of key preservation management issues facing libraries and archives.
Conservation OnLine. CoOL is a full text library of conservation information, covering a wide spectrum of topics of interest to those involved with the conservation of library, archives and museum materials. It includes links to conservation related organizations and subscription information for over a dozen e-mail lists. The Conservation DistList will provide timely notification of upcoming programs and event, and the archives is fully searchable.
Lord, Allyn, Carolyn Reno, and Marie Demeroukas. Steal This Handbook! Jackson, MS: Southeastern Registrars Association, 1994. Reprint 2001. This handbook covers all aspects of emergency preparedness, response and recovery and includes both major disasters and everyday, potentially dangerous situations.
Ogden, Sherelyn, ed. Preservation of Library and Archival Materials: A Manual. 3rd rev. ed. Andover, MA: NEDCC, 1999. An authoritative publication covering topics such as planning, disaster management, reformatting, environmental monitoring, and collections care. An online version and order forms for a hardcover edition are available at the NEDCC web site.
Regional Alliance for Preservation. The mission of the Regional Alliance for Preservation (RAP) is to provide comprehensive preservation information to cultural institutions and the public throughout the United States. Links to regional centers will help to identify sources of services, workshops and preservation information.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Preserving Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists, 1995. This introductory textbook includes both management and hands-on processing information and can be purchased, along with a broad selection of related publications through SAA.
Wilson, William K. Environmental Guidelines for the Storage of Paper Records. NISO Technical Report (NISO-TR01-1995). Bethesda, MD: NISO Press, 1995. NISO standards can be ordered from NISO Press Fulfillment, P.O. Box 451, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701-0451. For further information or to place an order, call toll free at 877-736- 6476 or 301-362-6904. Free copies of this article have been made available from NISO (National Information Standards Organization) as .pdf files.
Karen E.K. Brown is the Preservation Librarian at the University at Albany. Ms. Brown has conducted many workshops and surveys on behalf of NEDCC and others, and is an active member of ALCTS/PARS.