The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 5, Number 1
Feb 1981


More About the ARL Project

On July 1st, 1980, Pamela W. Darling began work as the Preservation Specialist for the Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies (ARL/OMS). For the next eighteen months she will be conducting a special project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is designed to produce planning tools and procedural and technical manuals for libraries seeking to develop or expand their programs for preserving library materials.

Coordinating the Project will be Duane E. Webster, Director of the Office of Management Studies. Other Project staff will include Jeffrey Gardner, OMS Associate, and Maxine Sitts, OMS Information Services Specialist, An advisory committee of library directors and preservation specialists will guide the effort. The Office of Management Studies is located at the Association of Research Libraries headquarters in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Darling will be working from a Project Office provided by the School of Library Service at Columbia University. The Project will benefit, therefore, both from the rich resources of the Library Service Library at Columbia, and from its proximity to the Columbia School of Library Service, which is currently developing (also with NEH support) specialized graduate programs for library conservators and preservation administrators.

The Project has three major phases. The first involves assembling existing materials from librarians, conservators and others who have had experience in some aspect of preservation. This information will form the basis for the drafting of a practical manual, or set of manuals, for the various activities which comprise a broad preservation program, including environmental control, shelving and handling, binding, mending and repair, restoration, replacement and reproduction, To facilitate use of these manuals, a planning Procedure will be developed, drawing on the experience of ARL /OMS programs such as the Collection Analysis Project and the Management Review and Analysis Program, which will provide a structured approach to the numerous administrative and organizational decisions which must be made. This planning procedure will enable a library to review the extent of deterioration in its collections, assess the scope and effectiveness of its current activities bearing on the physical condition of materials, and develop a phased approach to improving and expanding those activities consistent with the library's service goals and present and potential resources.

The second phase of the Project will consist of testing the materials in three different library settings. While the exact nature of the field test process will not be determined until the first phase is completed, the participating libraries will probably be involved in a two- or three-month self-study process, guided by a committee or task force of library staff with direction from a Project staff member. Using the planning procedure and manual(s) the task force will prepare a detailed action plan for local preservation program development, which will be submitted to the Library director for approval and implementation at the conclusion of the self-study process.

During the third phase, staff involved in the test libraries will assist the Project staff in evaluating the effectiveness of the planning procedure and manual(s). Once appropriate revisions have been completed, these documents will be made available to the library community by the Office of Management Studies, which will also provide, through its consultant program, skilled librarians to assist institutions in applying the materials to their own situations.

The project is a very timely one. In the last decade, libraries have begun to recognize that their collections are seriously endangered by a combination of damaging environmental conditions, improper handling, and the declining quality of the materials themselves--chemically unstable paper and film, weak binding methods, and so forth. While exact figures are impossible to cone by, it has been estimated that a third of research library collections have already reached a state of deterioration that makes further use virtually impossible, and as many as half may be unusable by the end of this century. Although techniques for the physical restoration of books and manuscripts have advanced considerably in the years since the Florence flood--the disaster which spawned the modern field of conservation/preservation--these techniques remain extraordinarily tine-consuming and thus expensive. For example, the Library of Congress has estimated that it would take 12,000 man-years to restore the damaged materials in its Rare Book Division alone! Clearly additional methods must be developed to preserve the contents of our libraries.

In the past several years, major libraries have begun to look seriously at the preservation problem, and some have moved toward establishing broad programs to control and correct them. Such efforts have been slowed, however, by the lack of procedural know-how, so that each institution has had to discover for itself how to identify deteriorating material, what criteria to use for selecting appropriate treatment or replacement options, what styles of library binding will insure the longest life of materials, what mending techniques nay actually shorten the life of materials. Unlike other areas of librarianship, such as acquisitions, cataloging or reference work, preservation has as yet no common standards or traditions of practice. The ARL/OMS Preservation Project should advance the field by codifying practices as they have developed thus far, making it possible for librarians with preservation responsibilities to spend their energies on implementation rather than invention of programs to rescue library collections from the threat of massive destruction.

The seven Advisory Committee members for the Project are Paul Banks, Sally Buchanan, Joanne Harrar, David Laird, John Finzi, David Stam, and Gay Walker. For more information, contact the Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies, 1527 New Hampshire Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, or Pamela W. Darling, ARL/OMS Preservation Project Office, c/o School of Library Service, 516 Butler Library, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 (212-280-2405 or leave mes, at 212-280- 2293).

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