Few institutions have the time or the money to meet every preservation and conservation need for their collection. When resources are limited, choices must be made among preservation activities. The physical condition of collections is only one aspect of making preservation decisions. As discussed earlier in this session, other considerations include the intrinsic value of collections, their importance to the institution, their legal and historic value, the ease and cost of replacement, and other factors that can only be identified by the collections' custodians.
There are several basic steps in creating a preservation plan: determining preservation needs, identifying potential solutions, setting priorities, and devising a detailed plan to address the identified needs. Opportunities to address preservation issues sometimes arise unexpectedly, so you will be ahead of the game if you have a preservation plan in place that allows you to take advantage of such opportunities.
Once an assessment has been completed, it is essential to summarize the preservation needs that have been identified by preparing a written report. This report should list observations and recommendations for each preservation component (e.g., environmental control, disaster planning, security, housekeeping, collection storage and housing, reformatting, conservation treatment). If your assessment was done by an outside consultant, the consultant will provide this report. If you did an assessment in house (or as part of this course), you will need to produce a written report.
See Sample Assessment Report Observations and Recommendations (PDF, 464k) for emergency preparedness in a public library with a local history collection. In a full assessment report, observations and recommendations like these would be provided for each major preservation category (environment, storage, handling, etc.).
It is also important to prepare an executive summary for the assessment report that sets forth short-term, medium-term, and long-term preservation priorities. Short-term priorities are problems requiring immediate action and/or projects that can be undertaken with existing staffing and funding. Medium-term priorities are projects that will require additional funding, planning, and/or staff time. Long-term priorities include steps to be taken once short- and medium-term goals have been accomplished, as well as large-scale activities (e.g., new environmental systems, installation of sprinklers) that must be planned over a longer period of time.
See Sample Assessment Report Executive Summary (PDF, 452k) for a college library with a special collections and archives. This type of document summarizes the most important recommendations within an assessment report.
While it provides a great deal of useful information, an assessment report cannot provide a complete analysis of the many additional factors that must be considered when setting priorities for actual preservation action. Some factors—such as available funding for preservation, staff time and expertise, and user demand for collections—change as institutional circumstances change. Other factors that affect preservation priorities require an in-depth understanding of the institution and its collections that only staff members possess, such as the relative value of collections to the institution and political considerations.
There is consensus regarding the issues to consider when prioritizing potential preservation actions. The following criteria are taken from Preservation Planning: Guidelines for Writing a Long-Range Plan, referenced in Additional Resources:
- Use—Materials that are used frequently, whether consulted by researchers or exhibited routinely, may be at higher risk than other collections.
- Storage—Collections that are stored under adverse conditions, whether environmental or in damaging enclosures, may require prompt preservation action.
- Condition—Items or collections in fragile condition may be at risk of loss unless they receive attention quickly.
- Value—Either absolute value (rarity, monetary worth, intrinsic, or associational value) and/or relative value of collections to an institution may influence preservation priorities. Whether collections have long- or short-term value to an institution will also influence decision making.
- Format—Whether materials need to be preserved in their original format will also influence priorities.
- Impact—Those actions that will result in dramatic improvement in current conditions or a slowing of deterioration, or that will affect the greatest number of items, will often be the highest priority.
- Feasibility—This factor is essential; it includes staffing levels and expertise, financial considerations (outside funding, operating costs, expenses for materials and services), policy and procedural changes required, and political considerations. Even if the impact of a preservation action is high, it may be given a low priority if implementation is not feasible.
- Urgency—There will always be some activities that require immediate action; collections may be damaged or lost, or an opportunity to act on a particular project may be lost if action is not taken.
In general, preservation activities that will have high impact (e.g., improved climate control, rehousing of a collection, or reformatting) and are highly feasible (e.g., the staffing, time, and money is available to carry them out in the near future) will be the highest priority. Activities with high impact but low feasibility (e.g., replacing the HVAC system) may be given a lower priority until circumstances make them more feasible, while actions that are feasible but have only minimal impact (such as installing UV sleeves on fluorescent lights) may or may not be undertaken, depending on such factors as cost, visibility within the institution, and collection value.
See the Impact/Feasibility Worksheet (PDF, 248k) that will help you to set priorities.
The preparation of a preservation plan must be supported by your institution's administration and board of trustees, since drafting an effective plan will consume a significant amount of staff time. It is crucial to gain support from both the administration and from staff members, as it will be difficult to implement the plan's recommendations without this commitment. A team approach is generally recommended when writing a preservation plan, to facilitate collaboration and maintain support for the plan.
The preservation planning team should include a wide range of staff members who are responsible for collections care within the institution. This includes maintenance, housekeeping, and security staff in addition to collections care staff. Representatives from the board of trustees or advisory committee should also be included. A leader of the team must be appointed, who will be responsible for keeping the project on schedule. The team must prepare a realistic timetable for completion of each task or goal.
The team may be large or small, depending on the size of the institution. In a small institution, almost all staff might be involved, while in a large institution representatives from various departments would participate. In a large institution, input from other staff should be solicited and communicated to the planning team by the designated representative from each department.
Each member of the team should be assigned responsibility for a specific category or part of the plan (e.g., description of collections, summary of needs and required actions, listing of preservation actions to date, and the action plan and timetable). It may be appropriate for more than one team member to work together on each section. It is usually a good idea to assign one person the responsibility of pulling together all the information gathered by the team into a written plan, or at least to edit the various sections that have been written to provide consistency.
The process of writing a preservation plan is covered in detail in Sherelyn Ogden's Preservation Planning: Guidelines for Writing a Long-Range Plan (see Additional Resources). This publication includes many helpful worksheets for gathering information and drafting an action plan and timetable. It also includes a sample plan that may be helpful. The comments below about the preservation planning process and the structure of a plan have been summarized from this publication.
The process of writing a preservation plan can be complex and time consuming, but completing the sections of this text will help you gather the necessary information for your plan.
The basic components of the planning process are:
- set the groundwork (establish staff and administrative support and pull together a team)
- gather and review existing documents (e.g., the preservation planning assessment, the institution's mission and goals, the institution's overall long-range plan, collection policies, the institution's disaster plan)
- write the plan (you must decide whether a lengthy and detailed plan will be most effective or a short and succinct plan)
- implement and update the plan
The basic structure of a preservation plan should be as follows:
- Title Page
- Executive Summary
- Table of Contents
- Description of Collections
- Preservation Needs and Required Actions
- Institutional Action Plan and Timetable
- Listing of Preservation Actions to Date
The key items in the plan are the list of high priority actions that are achievable and a timetable for implementing them. Once you have completed your preservation planning assessment, your primary goal should be to produce this timetable, using the recommendations in your report as a starting point. Worksheets listing preservation actions, resources, steps required, and target completion dates may be helpful (either the ones in Preservation Planning: Guidelines for Writing a Long-Range Plan, worksheets that you create yourself, or those you find in the sessions in this course).
A preservation plan (unlike an assessment report) cannot remain static; it must be periodically revised as circumstances change and preservation needs are addressed. Changes in staff, funding, or facilities may require the preservation plan to be reviewed and possibly updated. Goals and objectives should be periodically revisited to insure that the expectations of the initial plan are being met.
It is important not just to be reactive, but also to try to guide the preservation program intentionally. Sometimes activities or resources may fall behind in a particular area. In that case, new planning may be needed, or schedules may need to be adjusted. Usually the person responsible for preservation management within the institution should be directing periodic evaluations of all ongoing preservation projects, as well as the plan itself, in consultation with their planning committee. Diplomacy and skill in working with colleagues will be essential to this process.
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