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Session 9: Building a Preservation Program


program funding

1 Advocacy | 2 Budgeting | 3 Funding Sources | 4 Grantwriting 

Effective preservation requires a dependable budget with active administrative coordination, even if the budget is not large at the beginning. While it is possible to make some improvements at no cost, any significant changes will require funding for supplies, training, and equipment.

In this section you will learn about advocating and budgeting for preservation, identifying outside sources of funding, and writing grants for preservation projects. Keep in mind, however, that although grant funding is an excellent resource for individual preservation projects, it should be used to supplement institutional funding, not to replace it. Institutional commitment to the preservation program through the allocation of funds for preservation activities is very important -- and, in fact, strong evidence of ongoing institutional support for preservation is required by many granting agencies.

The Role of Funding in Setting Preservation Priorities

Setting preservation priorities involves many cost-related questions. A recurring consideration will be how much you can accomplish in-house, and when will you need an outside vendor or consultant? If you need to establish an ongoing library binding or book repair program, how much will it cost, is that use of internal staff time cost-effective, and is your institution willing to bear the expense? Will you tackle lower-cost preservation options first? How will you plan for higher-cost activities? If your institution needs a preservation survey, will you pay for a professional one or will in-house staff conduct it? Would outsourcing of some preservation activities be cheaper than doing the work in house? How will you fund special projects such as reformatting audiovisual collections or conservation treatment? Is outside funding available?

Remember, however, that cost is only one of the factors in setting preservation priorities; you must also consider each activity in the context of the entire preservation program. Is the activity a critical need? Will it provide a significant benefit for a large number of materials? If it provides a limited benefit, but is also low cost, should it be done anyway? The cost of a preservation activity must also be balanced against the risk of not undertaking the activity; neglecting an activity because of high cost (such as roof repair or installation of fire protection equipment) may have serious negative consequences for all or part of your collection over the long term.

1 Advocacy

In order to obtain funding, staffing, and support for preservation activities, you must first make the case for preservation. While the imperative to properly steward collections (through good housings, appropriate environment, conservation treatment, reformatting, and more) may seem obvious, these efforts will compete against many other high priorities for limited resources.

Internal Advocacy

As a preservation advocate, you must find ways to make the case for preservation to your fellow staff and users as well as to your administration, board of trustees, fundraising groups, and granting agencies. Granting agencies seek to understand the value of your collections and the urgency of preservation needs, as will be discussed in Grantwriting. For those who manage the annual budgets that impact the availability of resources and staffing (administrators, boards, and fundraising groups), consider the following strategies for preservation advocacy:

  • Stay in the public eye - all too often, preservation activities happen in the off-limits staffing areas or tucked away in limited-access collection storage areas. Find new ways to let your patrons appreciate your preservation efforts. Use Preservation Week to host a talk about caring for personal collections and share recently conserved items from the collection or details on new environmental enhancements in your stacks. Showcase recently digitized audiovisual collections on your website or create an exhibit about efforts to rehouse collections. Draft a press release when you receive a grant or make great strides towards conserving high-value collection items.

  • Be prepared - Keep a top ten list of preservation equipment or supply needs in the event of leftover end-of-year funding or a sudden donation earmarked for preservation. Keep quotes from preservation housing suppliers or RFPs for reformatting services on file; keep a calendar of preservation workshops or conferences that you'd like to attend in case funding becomes available. Formulate an ideal job description for a preservation-focused position, articulating the duties that would best fulfill your institution's preservation needs; the next time a staff position opens, try to work some of these duties into that role.

  • Seek external funding - grants and donations bring more than funding support to preservation activities -- they are also great press. External funding proves a support base for your preservation activities, and money often has a way of attracting more money.

  • Document your work - Track statistics and analyze the results to find good news to share (e.g., as compared to last year, this year you more than doubled the number of books re-housed into preservation quality enclosures). Share those stories on blogs, through social media, and in the press.

Advocacy Beyond Institutional Boundaries

Lobbying for preservation support can extend beyond the base of your institution. After all, elected officials at the local, state, and federal level occasionally need to be reminded of the importance of their support of cultural heritage institutions and the granting agencies who allocate funding to preservation activities. There are a number of ways that you can actively make the case for preservation via professional organizations that organize advocates to influence laws and legislation affecting libraries, museums, and archives:

2 Budgeting

Budgeting is one of the most challenging aspects of preservation management. You must decide how much you can afford to spend on preservation projects. You will also need to decide what work will be carried out in-house and what might be outsourced.

Preservation Spending: How Much Is Enough?

In an era of declining budgets and staffing, there are never enough resources to address all preservation needs. To determine whether your institution is on the right track in terms of preservation spending, it can be helpful to compare your efforts to those of other institutions.

Until the program was discontinued in 2008, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) issued an annual report on preservation statistics in ARL member libraries, which primarily represent libraries that hold 2 million volumes or more. These reports collect statistics on the organizational structure of library preservation programs, staffing levels, preservation expenditures, conservation treatment, and preservation reformatting.

ARL statistics gathered over a number of years showed that research libraries with active preservation programs spent approximately 5 to 10 percent of their total budget on preservation (e.g., prevention of deterioration, preparing materials for use, and repairing/copying materials). This statistic does not include costs related to the building and systems that enable the library to maintain a preservation-quality environment, or the relatively recent emergence of digitization and digital preservation activities. The larger the library, the higher the percentage of total library expenditures that tends to be directed to preservation.

While these figures obviously do not apply directly to other types and sizes of institution, they are useful as a general model. See the ARL Preservation Statistics website to learn more.

Reallocating Existing Funds

Remember that initiating new preservation activity does not always have to involve allocation of new funds. When planning a preservation program, review your institution's budget to identify any activities that could be redirected to assist in meeting preservation goals. For example, most archives already purchase folders and storage boxes, and many libraries purchase pamphlet binders or other enclosures. A change in the type of material bought and/or training of staff to use the enclosures properly may greatly improve the overall protection of collections with little or no additional cost.

Since reallocation of existing funds may cross departmental lines, it must be undertaken as part of a cooperative preservation planning process that is coordinated with the institution's overall strategic plan.

Cost Analysis

Cost analysis is crucial to effective budgeting for preservation. In order to decide how best to accomplish a particular preservation goal, a preservation manager must be able to analyze a preservation activity and its associated costs. A cost analysis might be needed in any of the following situations:

  • submitting a budget proposal for a preservation activity within the institution
  • preparing a response to an institutional request for cost reductions
  • developing a cost estimate for a grant proposal
  • comparing the costs of carrying out an activity in-house versus using a vendor

The process of carrying out a cost analysis is explained in detail in the 2006 ALA publication The Preservation Manager's Guide to Cost Analysis (see Additional Resources). After identifying the product, service, or other activity to be analyzed (for example, to determine the costs of producing boxes in-house), the preservation manager must gather detailed information on the procedures for carrying out the service or activity.

Costs may include supplies and equipment, services, labor, or indirect costs (e.g., overhead). In each of these categories, the cost of each resource needed to complete the activity should be calculated on a per-item basis. Remember to include "hidden" costs (e.g., supply costs may include not just the cost of the items, but shipping costs or custom order fees).

All assumptions made must be documented (for example, if the cost of staff time is not included in a comparative cost analysis because it is the same in both scenarios), and the effectiveness of the cost analysis must be measured by comparison with actual costs or with similar activities at another institution.

3 Funding Sources

There are various potential sources of funding for preservation activities; these include internal sources (your parent institution, or possibly fees for services and/or other income-generating projects) and external sources (federal and state grant programs, as well as local corporations and foundations). For external funding sources, your primary goal should be to develop a network of funders that matches your goals and ideas, and that can provide regular small grants supplemented by periodic larger grants.

Federal Funders

The three major federal sources for preservation funding of paper-based collections are:

  • The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Division of Preservation and Access. NEH has a number of grant categories, including Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions, Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections, and Humanities Collections and Reference Resources. Note that the Preservation Assistance Grants are designed specifically for smaller institutions—they provide funding for preservation surveys; purchase of preservation supplies, equipment, and storage furniture; and other activities.

  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). IMLS funds the Conservation Assessment program (for historical societies, museums, and state/local governments), as well as the National Leadership Grants. IMLS coordinates the Connecting to Collections initiative and administers the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), through which funds are provided to state libraries, which then make re-grants to individual institutions for various purposes, including preservation.

  • The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). NHPRC makes Archival and Records Project Grants to archival institutions to preserve records and make them accessible.

Other potential federal funders include the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

State Funders

There are numerous state preservation grant programs around the country which generally focus funding on preservation planning surveys, and subsequently for implementing survey recommendations. The type and extent of these programs varies greatly, so it is best to consult your state library or archives to determine whether or not a preservation grant program exists in your state.


Remember that private organizations may also be a source of funding. There are several types of foundations: large general-purpose organizations such as the Ford Foundation or the Mellon Foundation; special-purpose foundations; company-sponsored foundations; community organizations (which usually fund within a specific geographic area); and family foundations (which are often informal and unstaffed).

Many small/local foundations or corporations have specific interests and you may be able to find one that matches your needs. For example, if you are trying to preserve a local history collection, you might consider approaching local businesses or others with an interest in the community. As with federal or state funding, you may have to provide funds to match the grant. Also remember that foundations may help in ways other than providing money directly for preservation activities, including providing funding for printing costs, furniture, or equipment. Check the Foundation Grants for Preservation in Libraries, Archives, and Museums, a free resource that lists more than 2,000 grants of $5,000 or more awarded by 500+ grantmakers to institutions for preservation and conservation related activities.

4 Grantwriting

A grant proposal is a written presentation asking for support of a program, project, activity, or function that an institution wants to undertake in response to a need. The proposal must articulate this need and provide a plan for carrying out the desired activity. The activity to be funded must have a clear relationship to your institution's mission and purpose. Your written proposal should be clear and realistic and should focus on what you can accomplish.

The key to writing a successful grant proposal is to understand what needs to be included in each part of the proposal, as well as what the proposal reviewers will be looking for when reading the document.

The general components of a preservation project proposal are as follows:

  • Objectives: This section includes both your goals (a broad-based statement of the ultimate result of the activity) and objectives (a narrowly defined, measurable, time-specific outcome that your institution expects to accomplish as a result of the grant). Be sure to identify the community being served and to state the results of the project, not the activity itself.

  • Plan of Work: This is a detailed description of the activities and services to be undertaken to achieve your goals and objectives. It should explain why you chose these methods, and it should enumerate what facilities, personnel, and equipment will be used. The plan should include a timeline for the process and define tasks and subtasks.

  • Budget: This provides estimated costs for the activities listed in the plan of work. The forms and guidelines of the funder should be followed; government funders usually require more detail than foundations. See this session's page on Budgeting for a discussion of cost analysis.

  • Evaluation: This section describes your plans for evaluating the project to determine whether or not it was successful. You may need to measure whether staff members changed or improved their skills, knowledge, etc., or you may need to measure facts such as items rehoused or treated, materials developed, supplies consumed, etc.

  • Sustainability: This section indicates how you will maintain the project or program at the end of the grant period. Will the activities continue? If so, how will they be maintained, and what funding/resources will you provide?

Helpful Hints for Grant Writing

  • There should be one writer, even if there are many contributors.
  • Follow the funder's guidelines.
  • Do your research and get the facts right—be knowledgeable about the most current preservation practices.
  • Be aware of related preservation projects.
  • All ideas should flow from one central need.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Be compelling, but not overdramatic.
  • Get an outside person to edit the proposal and review the budget.
  • Be thorough, clear, and concise.

Remember that a good proposal doesn't necessarily result in getting a grant; many factors, such as the number of proposals received or the current priorities of the granting agency, will affect the outcome. Ask the granting agency for feedback, and resubmit if necessary.



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