What is Preservation?
Elements of a Preservation Program
Although there is general consensus within the preservation community on
the basic elements of a systematic preservation program, where the emphasis
falls will depend on the type of institution, since institutional and user
needs will vary. For example, the primary interest of a public library may
be to keep materials in good repair so that they can be used until they
become obsolete and are withdrawn, while a research library or an archives
would emphasize preservation of intellectual content over the long term
and/or preservation of original items with artifactual value.
The basic elements of a preservation program are as follows:
- Environmental Control—providing a moderate and stable temperature
and humidity level as well as controlling exposure to light and pollutants.
This should be a priority for all institutions, although control will
usually be less tight for general circulating collections than for rare
books, special collections, or archival materials.
- Disaster Planning—preventing and responding to damage from
water, fire, or other emergency situations. Again, this should be a high
priority in all institutions. The reasons are obvious for collections
of enduring value, but even collections that are not meant to be retained
over the long term represent a capital investment for an institution and
as such must be protected from loss.
- Security—protecting collections from theft and/or vandalism.
This type of protection is needed for both special and general collections,
since loss and vandalism of general collections results in unnecessary
replacements and expense.
- Storage and Handling—using nondamaging storage enclosures
and proper storage furniture; cleaning storage areas; using care when
handling, exhibiting, or reformatting collections; educating staff and
users in proper handling techniques. Again, this should be a priority
for all types of collections.
- Reformatting—reproducing deteriorating collections onto
stable media to preserve the informational content or in cases where the
originals are fragile or valuable and handling is restricted. This category
includes microfilming, production of preservation facsimiles, and duplication
of audiovisual collections. These strategies are most appropriate for
collections whose intellectual content needs to be preserved over the
long term and/or where security copies are needed for unique items. Preservation
microfilming is an excellent strategy for unique paper-based collections,
but a low priority for institutions with general collections that are
- Library Binding—rebinding of damaged volumes to provide
sturdy use copies. This strategy is used by libraries with general collections
in heavy use. It should not be used on any items that have artifactual
- Conservation Treatment—treating individual objects using
the services of a trained conservator. This may be appropriate for a wide
range of institutions, provided they hold unique materials that are of
sufficient value to justify treatment.
- In-House Repair—repairing objects that do not have artifactual
value using a trained collections conservator or trained in-house staff.
In-house book repair is used by public and academic libraries to keep
non-unique books in good condition for use, and some institutions use
basic paper repair techniques (e.g., mending, encapsulation) for historical
materials. But for special collections libraries, archives, and historical
societies, general preventive activities such as rehousing should be given
a higher priority than in-house repair.
- Digital Projects—using digital imaging to provide access
copies of deteriorated original collections; creating digital objects
that will act as preservation copies of original items; and/or preserving
objects that are "born-digital." Digital projects may be appropriate across
a wide range of institutions; the key in undertaking such a project is
for the institution to have a good understanding of the requirements and
limitations of digital imaging.
Each of these activities will be discussed in more detail in later sessions
of this course. It is helpful to keep in mind that the primary goal of preservation
is to ensure that collections survive in good condition for as long as they
are needed. Preservation should never be limited to the treatment of a few
select items. The most cost-effective way to establish longevity is to prevent
or retard deterioration.