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Planning and Prioritizing
1.5 Collections Policies and Preservation

"Every library collection is established for one or more definite purposes. A collection development and management program organizes and directs the processes of acquiring materials, integrating them into coherent collections, managing their growth and maintenance, and deselecting them when appropriate in a cost- and user-beneficial way."1 A coherent collection policy also establishes the parameters within which a systematic preservation program operates. The collection policy is based on the institutional mission statement, which enunciates the goals that the collections are to achieve. The collecting priorities that the collection policy establishes help to focus preservation activity on the most important parts of the collections. To put it colloquially, the mission statement tells you where you are going; the collection policy gives you the details of how you will get there; and the preservation policy makes sure that at least the most valuable portions of the baggage do not fall apart en route.

Collection policies define the scope of current collections and indicate areas in which future collections may be developed. By specifying the subjects and formats to be included in or excluded from the collections, the policy encourages consistency in selection of new materials and deselection of those that no longer serve institutional goals. Because it deals with the full range of a library's collections, the policy makes selectors or bibliographers aware of the breadth and variety of materials being collected and thus helps them to see the collections as a whole rather than focus on just those portions for which they are responsible. It thereby encourages communication and cooperation, identifies areas of weakness, and helps to determine priorities for other library functions such as cataloging and preservation.

A collection policy also looks outward, if only by implication. This means that it takes into consideration the holdings of other repositories, especially in subjects of relatively esoteric research interest. Until recently, this has in most cases meant repositories located fairly nearby which could and would provide convenient access. The advent of the photocopy machine, the growth of automated ILL systems, the steadily increasing number of preservation microfilms of important research collections, and now the ability to digitize on demand information for electronic transmission have steadily expanded the geographic range from which materials can be obtained with relative ease. As a result, collection policies and preservation programs tend to place a higher priority on materials of particular importance to the institution's programs that cannot be readily obtained elsewhere.

It is not possible to develop a successful preservation program without a clear mission statement and a comprehensive collection policy. Ultimately, preservation is about setting priorities because not even the richest institutions are able or willing to preserve everything they have collected for all time. The collection policy helps to determine preservation priorities because it states the level at which the institution collects in any given subject. That level is in turn usually determined by the importance of a given collection to the institution's programs and ultimately to its mission. An objective methodology for determining collection level by measuring the quantity and types of materials in it is often used by collection managers and preservation administrators. "The RLG Conspectus is a collection assessment method that maps subjects' strengths and weaknesses within an individual library, a consortium of libraries, or a geographical region using standardized criteria and descriptions."2 The Conspectus uses a numerical scale with standard definitions to describe the types of client activities supported by the collection. These are, in descending order: comprehensive (5), research (4), intermediate (3), basic (2), minimal (1), and out of scope (0). Levels (1) and (2) are subdivided into two levels and (3) into three levels to provide finer distinctions that are useful in describing smaller collections. The ALA Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements cited in note 1 provides further information on the use of the Conspectus in collection policies.

Collection level is not, however, the only criterion to be noted in determining a collection's importance to an institution as a factor in establishing its priority for preservation. Another important feature is whether or not it contains materials that are artifactually valuable or have a significant associational value for the institution. In dealing with archival materials, one should also consider evidential value. Such value pertains to materials needed because of their legal, administrative, and/or fiscal significance to an organization.

If well thought-out and comprehensive, collection policies provide a vital point of reference for making preservation decisions. Preservation considerations must also inform a collection policy if it is to serve as a reliable guide to the development and management of collections. "All collection management decisions, made from the time of acquisition of an item, are embodied in that item's physical deterioration and its ultimate need for preservation intervention."3 Thus, at each stage of the process of acquiring, processing, housing, providing access to, maintaining, and eventually deselecting materials, all library staff, and especially those directly involved in collection development and management, should have clearly in mind the preservation implications of their decisions and actions.

Acquisitions decisions should consider not just the importance of a title to a subject area or whether it should be acquired in hard copy, microformat, or electronically to serve user needs best, but also the long-term preservation requirements of those formats. If a title is printed on acidic paper or if experience has shown that a serial is particularly apt to be stolen or have articles cut out of it, it may be preferable to acquire it right at the start in a film or electronic format to achieve either greater physical longevity or better security.

It is particularly important to look gift horses in the mouth by asking how a collection has been stored in the past and checking its current condition. A wise collection manager examines any prospective collection carefully for signs of embrittlement, defacement or physical damage, deteriorating bindings, mildew, and insect infestation. Donor forms should state clearly that the library may choose to deaccession items from the collection not just because they are out of scope or duplicate existing holdings, but also because the costs of preservation outweigh their intellectual value to the institution.

Once materials have been acquired, sound collection management includes measures to prevent future deterioration. For example, decisions to provide certain kinds of materials with commercial library binding demonstrate an awareness that bindings that meet current national standards provide excellent long-term protection. Indeed, they are the most cost-effective step a library can take to preserve items that are intended to be permanent additions to the collections. Similarly, archival and manuscript collections should be given the protection of alkaline folders and boxes as they are accessioned.

Collection managers should be active partners with preservation administrators in working to insure the best possible environment for housing collections of permanent value. Research done at the Library of Congress and the Image Permanence Institute has proven beyond any doubt that the life expectancies of collections that have enjoyed stable, moderate temperature and humidity are dramatically extended. In these days of sharply declining book budgets, Collections managers are becoming increasingly aware that the fewer replacements that have to be bought, the more funds there are for new acquisitions.

When a volume has deteriorated beyond repair, selectors and preservation staff can cooperate in making the wisest possible decision about whether or not to replace it and if so, with what. For example, in most cases it makes little sense to acquire another copy of an edition that has deteriorated because it was printed on highly acidic paper and shoddily bound. If and how it should be reformatted should be decided by a bibliographer knowledgeable about the relative merits, defects, and costs of the several available reformatting options: filming, photocopying, digitizing.

In addition, a number of leading research libraries such as those at Harvard and the University of Texas have recently constructed remote cold storage facilities. These have been carefully planned, not just to relieve overcrowding in the on-campus stacks, but to provide preservation environments with stable, low temperatures and low humidity to extend the life of older paper- and film-based collections. Collection managers and preservation administrators are working together to identify those collections that will benefit most by removal to such protected environments.

One sign of the increasing symbiosis of collection management and preservation in American libraries is the changing character of needs assessments. In the 1970s and early 1980s when preservation programs were first being developed, collection surveys were used simply to determine physical condition. Today they also collect data on storage environments, fire protection, disaster preparedness, level of use, and value. The two latter factors fall into the traditional domain of collection management.

There is a historical reason for this change. The preservation movement in this country began primarily as a response to the growing amount of deteriorating acidic paper in the stacks of American research libraries. This mushrooming crisis had clearly outstripped the traditional solutions of replacement or repair which were essentially ad hoc remedies designed to deal with a single volume, a set, or a small group of manuscripts or records. By the mid-1970s it was apparent that more massive and all-encompassing solutions were needed. Initially, the panacea of choice was microfilming, especially of large, important subject collections in research libraries, the so-called "Great Collections" approach to salvaging essential components of our intellectual heritage.

Inevitably, as the preservation movement grew, it evolved. More and more professional preservation administrators gained hands-on experience in addressing the full range of their institutions' preservation needs. Training programs were developed that encouraged analysis of those needs and generated new ideas for solutions. Regional preservation services provided training and consulting expertise to a broader range of types of institutions, many of which were not large enough to justify a full-time preservation administrator but combined preservation with other responsibilities. Scientific investigations to determine the causes of deterioration of paper and film led to recommendations for ways to prolong life, methods that were best applied to whole collections and even entire repositories.

One of the most striking features of the evolution that has occurred over the past 20 years is that the focus of preservation has increasingly shifted from response to prevention. It is no longer chiefly a rescue mission to save information with significant research value from imminent destruction. Today, preservation programs are wide-reaching efforts to prevent or at least slow down the deterioration of the full range of library and archival materials. As a result, preservation has become an integral component of collection management, and collection management for its part has become increasingly concerned with maintaining collection strength over time, not just for the present.


Written by Dr. Margaret Child


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