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Session 9: Building a Preservation Program

 

program management


1 Policy

The development of written policies and documentation is crucial to the planning process. Written policies provide guidance for carrying out specific activities, help to codify procedures, and ensure that staff members utilize new guidelines and rules.

Overall Preservation Policy

One of the first steps in the planning process must be to develop an overall institutional preservation policy. This document will provide a framework for setting preservation priorities and preparing a detailed preservation plan. The policy should reflect the institution's mission and goals and should include:

  • A general description of the preservation problems facing the institution
  • Definitions/explanations of key preservation concepts and terms
  • The general principles and practices that will guide the preservation program
  • A general outline of the preservation program that includes responsibilities for preservation activities and describes how preservation relates to other functions within the institution (e.g., provision of access, processing of new collections)

Essentially, the preservation policy articulates the overall goals of the preservation program. This policy should be revisited periodically, as the institution and circumstances change, and as preservation goals are achieved.

Policies for Specific Activities

Once an overall preservation policy has been developed, strategies will be needed for specific preservation activities which will provide staff with written guidelines for carrying out these activities as part of everyday collections maintenance. This is particularly important in smaller institutions where there is no separate preservation department.

Preservation should be a part of all activities, including these major areas:

  • Acquisition (using preservation-quality materials and methods in activities such as spine labeling, inventory, edge-marking, etc.)
  • library binding (use of preservation standards that consider the original item's structure and long-term access needs, etc.)
  • shelving (storing oversized books flat or spine down, using proper bookends)
  • photocopying (using an "edge" photocopier with an edge platen and being careful not to damage the spines of books)
  • exhibition (supporting collections properly and using nondamaging exhibit techniques, etc.)
  • digitization (proper handling during the reformatting process that assures the continued viability of the original, etc.)

Once an overall preservation policy has been developed, strategies will be needed for specific preservation activities which will provide staff with written guidelines for carrying out these activities as part of everyday collections maintenance. This is particularly important in smaller institutions where there is no separate preservation department.

Preservation should be a part of all activities, including these major areas:

  • Acquisition (using preservation-quality materials and methods in activities such as spine labeling, inventory, edge-marking, etc.)
  • Library binding (considering the original item's structure, long-term access needs, and following preservation standards in the binding process)
  • Shelving (storing books correctly with appropriate bookends, installing archival-quality shelving, etc.)
  • Photocopying (using an "edge" photocopier outfitted correctly for unique volumes, careful handling during reproduction, etc.)
  • Exhibition (supporting collections properly and limiting the term of the exhibit)
  • Digitization (proper handling during the reformatting process that assures the stability of the original item, etc.

The policy development process may also facilitate change within the institution, educating staff and administration about the damaging effects of current practices and procedures. Written policies are best developed over time, as preservation activities are systemized. In addition to the activities listed above, there may be a preservation component of policies regarding disaster planning and recovery, donor agreements, selection for conservation, loans and access, environmental monitoring, or collection storage and rehousing.

2 Organization and Staffing

Larger Institutions

There are a number of models for staffing a successful preservation program at a large institution. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) 1991 publication Preservation Program Models: A Study Project and Report (see Additional Resources) set out organizational and staffing models for four libraries of varying size, and though published prior to the age of digitization and digital preservation, it is still referenced in the library literature. ARL preservation statistics published annually show that many large research libraries have preservation departments of various sizes, ranging from part-time to full-time preservation administrators, along with library assistants, conservation technicians, and/or conservators.

Smaller Institutions

Identifying an effective staffing model for a preservation program in a small or medium-sized institution can be more challenging. In archives, historical societies, public libraries, and small college libraries, it is usually not realistic to have a separate preservation manager. In fact, many small institutions (this is particularly the case in archives) may have only one professional staff member who is responsible for all activities, including preservation. In these situations, preservation management will be a part-time responsibility for one or more staff members.

If the institution does not have a full-time preservation manager, it is best for one person on staff to be responsible for acquiring preservation information and making (or overseeing) preservation decisions. Even though a number of staff members may carry out preservation activities as part of their regular duties, it is important to have one person responsible for coordinating these activities.

In some institutions and situations, however, a committee may be more effective in managing preservation activities. In this case, each member of the committee would oversee a specific area of preservation (e.g., disaster planning, environmental control, housekeeping).

If you are responsible for managing preservation in a smaller institution, it is likely that preservation will be only one of many "hats" that you wear. Try not to be discouraged by the scope of the preservation problem. Instead, break tasks down into manageable projects that can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Your preservation plan will help you to do this and will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Assigning Responsibility

Your institution will need to make a commitment to providing staff time for preservation activities, as well as appropriate training. Job descriptions should include preservation activities, and the preservation manager should be at a high enough level within the organization that he or she can effectively work for change.

3 Documentation and Statistics

Ongoing documentation of preservation activities ensures that data is available to support any changes that may be needed. Documentation may involve describing existing preservation procedures, keeping statistics on preservation activities, maintaining records of conservation treatment and other activities, and taking photographs.

Documentation of preservation activities is important because it:

  • provides crucial information for new staff in case of reorganization or staff turnover
  • documents current practices so that they can be compared to future practices
  • supports necessary product, equipment, or technology changes
  • provides information that can be used to determine future budgeting and staffing levels

Preservation statistics can be very helpful for planning and budgeting, but you must carefully consider what data to record, how much is necessary, and how the statistics will be used.

 

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