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Planning and Prioritizing
1.1 What Is Preservation Planning?

Libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies are responsible not only for collecting, interpreting, and exhibiting significant materials that document history, but also for the long-term preservation, security, and accessibility of these materials. The American Association of Museums recognizes this responsibility. It states in its Code of Ethics for Museums that a museum must insure that the "collections in its custody are protected, secure, unencumbered, cared for, and preserved."1 Preservation is an integral part of a cultural institution's mission, and preservation planning should be part of its overall strategic plan.

  • Preservation planning is a process by which the general and specific needs for the care of collections are determined, priorities are established, and resources for implementation are identified.
  • Its main purpose is to define a course of action that will allow an institution to set its present and future preservation agendas.
  • In addition, it identifies the actions an institution will take and those it probably will never take so that resources can be allocated appropriately.

The Long-Range Preservation Plan

The result of the planning process is the formulation of a written, long-range preservation plan. This is an important document for an institution to have.

  • A long-range preservation plan delineates an institution's preservation needs and charts a course of action to meet these needs for its collections.
  • It provides the framework for carrying out established goals and priorities in a logical, efficient, and effective manner; it is a working tool for achieving agreed-upon priorities over a set period of time. It helps maintain continuity and consistency in a preservation program over time.
  • A plan validates the role and importance of preservation, helping to make preservation an equal partner with acquisitions and interpretation.
  • It is an important aid in securing necessary resources to assist with implementation of recommendations.
  • It records the past and current preservation activities and shapes the future efforts of an institution.

A preservation plan must dovetail with other key management tools in the institution, such as the collections management policy. The preservation plan cannot be drafted in isolation but needs to be composed within the same frame of reference that is used for all collections' policies and plans. This frame of reference is the institution's mission statement. All policies and management documents should flow from the mission statement and be understood and implemented within its parameters.

A preservation plan needs to be comprehensive and include all of an institution's collections. The integration of all collections into a plan is vital for developing a complete understanding of long-term preservation priorities. Also, such integration will allow for the linkage of preservation activities with other strategic planning agendas. A good preservation plan is realistic and practical. A document that is outside the ability of an institution to implement and support is not useful. While the plan must recognize all preservation needs, it should focus on those steps that can be accomplished with existing or obtainable resources (e.g., through grants or fundraising).

Every institutional plan is different. Some are long, complex, and detailed while others are short and simple. They all, however, flow from and are based on the needs assessment survey(s) the institution has done.

The Needs Assessment Survey

Needs assessment surveys are essential to preservation planning and must be carried out before a plan is drafted. A preservation plan is based on the needs of an institution and the actions required to meet these needs. This information is provided in the reports of the surveys. Many institutions have only one survey that considers the needs of all the collections in general terms. For some institutions with numerous diverse collections and complex planning needs, additional surveys that address particular problems or the needs of specific collections or types of materials may be required.

Since surveys are the foundation of preservation planning, having a survey that meets the institution's planning needs is critical.

  • A survey must evaluate the policies, practices, and conditions in an institution that affect the preservation of all the collections.
  • It must address the general state of all the collections, what is needed to improve that state, and how to preserve the collections long-term.
  • It must identify specific preservation needs, recommend actions to meet those needs, and prioritize the recommended actions.

A survey covers the entire building in which collections are housed. Hazards to collections are identified, considering such factors as environment, storage, security and access, housekeeping, conservation treatment, and policies and practices. It is important to note that the building in which collections are housed is often itself a part of the collections. This is the case with a historic or architecturally significant structure. In this instance, the actions required to preserve the building as well as the collections it houses must be considered.

All this information should be recorded in a formal survey report, written in clear direct language and formatted in such a way that information can be easily located and extracted from it. The report is the tool for drafting the preservation plan; it must contain information in plain language and in an easily accessible form.

Assistance is Available

Regional field services programs are available to assist cultural institutions in all aspects of preservation planning. They sponsor workshops, conduct general needs assessment and item-specific surveys, and provide guidance to institutional staff who are conducting in-house surveys. For more information, contact a conservation center for information on local field services programs.


This preservation leaflet is from Preservation Planning: Guidelines for Writing a Long-Range Plan, by Sherelyn Ogden, produced by NEDCC with the assistance of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It is available from the American Association of Museums.

Written by Sherelyn Ogden


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