Most institutions have many preservation needs that require a variety of actions to meet. Resources in an institution are always limited and every action cannot be accomplished. It is crucial to determine which actions are the most important so that those receive consideration first.
Prioritizing is the process of deciding which actions will have the most significant impact, which are the most important, and which are the most feasible.
Systems of risk assessment and management are being developed.1 These offer a highly pragmatic approach as is required by the large and diverse natural history collections for which they were first developed. These are geared toward setting collections care priorities and, when coupled with the complementary systems of collection profiles and categories of specimens, show promise for prioritizing actions.2 Training in this methodology is available from the Canadian Museum of Nature in the form of interactive one- and two-day workshops for institutions, groups of institutions, and organizations.3
Presently the easiest way for staff of most institutions, especially smaller ones, to prioritize preservation actions is by carefully considering specific criteria, weighing appropriate collections-related factors, and making informed value judgments before reaching a decision.
It is helpful to consider three criteria when prioritizing preservation actions.
The use, storage, condition, and value of the materials in the collections are influential in prioritizing actions and are important to consider.
The implementation priorities for an institution are the most important priorities. They are the high-priority actions that are achievable. To determine these, it is helpful to consider the criteria of impact and feasibility together for each action. A device that is useful for this is a grid developed by Pamela Darling, which is shown here in a modified form. The impact and feasibility of each action are plotted on the grid shown on the following page.
Darling explains that those actions that are of high impact and can be implemented with little difficulty are placed in Box #1. Those actions that have high impact but are difficult to implement go into Box #3.
Those actions that are not difficult to implement but will have little impact go into Box #2. Those actions that are difficult to implement and have little impact go into Box #4.
Darling goes on to explain that those actions in box #1 probably deserve highest priority, since they can be easily accomplished and will have significant impact. Those in Box #4 can often be postponed or even disregarded because they achieve little while requiring great effort. Many of those in Box #2 can also be eliminated because they accomplish little, though some may be worthwhile because they are easy to do. Box #3 items need careful consideration: despite their difficulty, they deserve implementation because of their high impact.6
One of the most difficult aspects of preservation planning is prioritizing. Planning requires significant people skills and an understanding of the organizational dynamics of the institution. Nowhere is this more evident than in prioritizing. You need to bring all your interpersonal skills to bear on discussions of priorities with your colleagues. You need to listen to what the issues of other departments are and be able to focus on what best serves the needs of the institution as a whole rather than just on the needs of your particular department or area of expertise. In the long run, this will best serve your needs as well. At the same time, you need to be a skillful negotiator and a good sales person. As with most other dealings with people, a good sense of humor will ease the process.
The grid was adapted and reproduced with the kind permission of the Association of Research Libraries. 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