The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 5, Number 2
Apr 1981


Priorities In Library and Archival Conservation

by Ellen McCrady

In recent years a number of people and organizations have advocated policies and programs to advance the conservation of library and archival materials. Each advocated program has much merit, but differs from the rest in the importance it assigns to the various elements in each program.

Last May there was a colloquium at the University of Maryland on "Funding and Identifying Priorities in Archival and Library Conservation," at which the participants expressed agreement on some major points, and disagreement on others. Those points of view are presented schematically below in order to facilitate comparison, and the positions of two individuals and three other organizations are added in, to provide context. All but one of these positions (the At Report) have been written in the last 3 years. Immediately after each need in the list are the abbreviations for the sources (people, organizations or publications) that have put it forward as a need. Most of the sources are organizations, simply because individuals do not often go to the trouble of working out a coherent statement of what the field needs. Sources defining a particular entry as a top priority are circled, thus: (W)

Some sources named only a few needs. NEH and NHPRC have limited funds, yet they want to put significant sums where those sums can do the most good--so they limit the number of their priorities. The NCAC's discussion paper on a national institute for conservation (NIC) was restricted to functions that it considered appropriate for a national institute to fill.

A very comprehensive list, on the other hand, was compiled from the report of NCAC's Study Committee on Libraries and Archives. Another long list, the most recently compiled, came from the Western States Materials Conservation Project, now renamed the Western Conservation Congress.

The technical constituency is underrepresented, despite the inclusion of two bench-oriented conservators (McCrady and Dean) in the list. Scientists' viewpoints are not represented at all, except to the extent that they are members of AIC, recipients of NHPRC grants, and so on. This is not to say that they do not have opinions; there are simply no organizations of conservation scientists as such, through which they can speak and be heard.

Another omission is the National Preservation Program, as presented by attendees at a planning conference in December 1976 at the Library of Congress. When the proceedings were published recently, it seemed at first that this conference and its program could be added to the lists but soon it became apparent that the attendees did not speak with a single voice, since no formal resolutions or set of recommendations were issued. A summary of that conference, in a form comparable to this, has been scheduled for a future issue.

It should be noted that the absence of a particular source notation (e.g. "NEH" or "W") after a priority does not necessarily mean that the source considers the activity trivial. Probably it means only that the source does not see a critical need for a change in the way the activity has been going on or developing; or the activity nay be perceived as a desirable result, rather than a central cause, within the whole complex situation.

Although many of the listed priorities overlap in meaning, little attempt has been made to combine them because this would have meant doing violence to the original concepts. The original wording has been preserved wherever practical.

Because all sources had an opportunity to correct or change the listings before this article went to press, there nay not be perfect correspondence between their needs as expressed here and as expressed in the printed sources cited.

The following abbreviations are used for the sources:

arl= "Preparation of Detailed Specifications for a National System for the Preservation of Library Materials," by Warren J. Haas. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, Feb. 1972. Final report of Project No. 0-8004, Contract No. OEG-3-70- 0021 (506), for U.S. Office of Education; sometimes referred to as "The Haas Report.".
dean= John Dean, Collections Maintenance Officer at the Milton Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, as he expressed himself on the panel in the University of Maryland colloquium. Other panelists were Larry Hackman (NHPRC), Margaret Child (NEH) and David Shute (NCAC).
L&a= "Report of the Study Committee on Libraries and Archives," by the National Conservation Advisory Council, 1978.
mcc= Ellen McCrady, editor of this Newsletter. Views expressed editorially, 1976 to date.
neh= National Endowment for the Humanities, Research Programs Division, as represented by Margaret Child in May 1980 at the University of Maryland.
nhprc= National Historical Publications and Records Commission, as represented by Larry Hackman in May 1980 at the University of Maryland.
nic= "Discussion Paper on a [Proposed] National Institute for Conservation of Cultural Property," National Conservation Advisory Council, 1978.
w= Western States Materials Conservation Project, Memorandum of June 30, 1980, to Feasibility Colloquium participants and others.

Margaret Child wrote in to say, after looking over an earlier draft of the list below, "I would also suggest that it is limiting to confine one's scope to the written record, especially if by that you mean print. [Earlier drafts of this article were titled, "Priorities in Conservation of America's Written Record."] There is also a great need to preserve information in other media--manuscripts & archives, films, photographs, sound recordings, videotapes, magnetic tapes--all are important records of our society and will increasingly play a larger role in documenting our activities."

John Dean responded to the sane draft with the following comments: "We do not have to decide on either apprenticeship training or conservation education 'a la Banks,' but there is every reason to have both. Having both, there must be flexibility within training systems to permit technicians to gravitate into administration (by adding the necessary education), and administrators to transfer to the bench (with the appropriate period of internship). There seems to be such a clamor, by some conservators, to cloak conservation in some kind of academic respectability; a craving for professorial status. I have tried to encourage the notion of national standards in terms of all training, which does not really mean the conferring of an academic degree. As we all know, academic degrees do not guarantee competence or even a given standard. Formal apprenticeship; academic training; workshops and seminars; internships and staff exchange; conferences; publications; consortia; are all extremely important and must be pursued all at once."

1. Surveys, Study and Planning Projects
a. Development of guidelines for surveys - L&A, W, NEH
b. Standard terminology, to facilitate interinstitutional surveys - W
c. Surveys of needs - NEH, L&A, NHPRC
2. Recruitment, Education, Training
a. Establishment and enforcement of standards:
  1. Accreditation of apprenticeships (McC)
  2. Accreditation of schools - L&A
  3. Professional organization sets accreditation standards, state enforces them - NIC
  4. Certification for individual conservators - L&A
  5. Certification of conservation administrators, conservators, and technicians - W
b. Support, and encourage creation of, formal training programs - (NEH)
c. Training for technicians (Note: The word "technician" is used by some writers to mean anybody and everybody on the continuum of skill from library age to book or paper conservator) Dean, NEH, W, (McC) At, NIC
d. Conservation training for craft-trained technicians already employed NIC, At
e. Conservation training for relevant clerical staff -At
f. Training of professional conservators - L&A, W, NEH
g. Continuing education for qualified conservators -L&A, NIC
h. Training for conservation administrators - L&A, (W) NEH, Dean
i. Adult education courses building toward a certificate in book conservation, open to anyone - McC
j. Workshops and seminars - Dean
k. Fellowships, scholarships, grants for training conservation students - NIC
l. Internships and staff exchange - Dean
m. Training in preventive techniques - NEH, W, NHPRC
n. Educating and informing librarians, curators, archivists: consciousness-raising - NIC, L&A, NHPRC, (W) NEH, ARL
o. Develop public awareness, inform trustees - NIC,(W), ARL
p. Let other libraries and conservation agencies know the results of state-of-the-arts studies - W, NEH

3. Publications, Communication, Information Services
a. Conferences, consortia - Dean
b. More publications and channels of communication among professionals - L&A, W, McC, Dean
c. Open up the channels of communication between scientists and practitioners; pay explicit attention to the problem of applying the findings of the scientists and keeping the scientists aware of the practitioners' information needs - L&A, McC,(NEH))
d. Compile a documentation of the best of current practice - McC
e. Directories of resource persons, materials, etc. -(W), NEH
f. Current-awareness services (abstracts, indices, etc.) - L&A, W
g. Videotapes and slide shows - L&A, W
h. Self-study aids -W, (NEH)
i. A central repository of information - NIC, (W) NEH
j. Regional information clearinghouse - (W)
k. A library of conservation literature - NIC
l. An information service - NIC
m. Information retrieval service for records of examination and treatment and for conservation data -NIC
n. On-site consultation service - NIC
o. More books and monographs, instead of short journal articles - McC
p. A newsletter - W
q. Publish research results - NIC
r. Publish standards for testing materials - NIC
s Publish results of conservation projects, telling what works where and why - NHPRC, NEH
t. Annual or other regular summaries of research and application, to circulate to relevant administrators - At

4. Scientific and Technical Aspects
a. Establishment and/or enforcement of standards:
  1. Testing of materials in conservation; quality control - NIC
  2. Uniform performance standards - ARL
  3. tandards and guidelines for microforms (this need is now partly filled) - NHPRC
  4. Manufacture of quality conservation materials -L&A, W
  5. Production and use of permanent/durable paper, lasting inks, bindings, etc. - W, (NEH) ARL
b. Effective and economical methods of mass treatment for paper-based materials - L&A, W
c. Develop new procedures and methods - NIC
d. State-of-the-art surveys in problem areas, including: mass deacidification, permanent/durable paper, collection surveys, environmental standards, bibliographical access to microforms - W, NEH, ARL
e. More research in conservation science - L&A, NIC
f. Establish relative importance of different causes of deterioration - L&A
g. Research on testing methods and materials testing -L&A, NIC
h. Develop workshop analytical methods - L&A, NIC
i. Methods of preserving audio-visual materials and photocopies - L&A
j. More applied research on the deterioration and preservation of materials - L&A, NIC, At, McC
k. Test and evaluate materials of current and potential use - NIC
l. Supervise manufacture of materials, especially for conservation if necessary - NIC

5. Conservation Labs and Programs
a. Standards: establishment and/or enforcement:
  1. Storage and exhibition conditions - L&A
  2. Environmental quality - W
  3. Common preservation procedures - At
  4. Guidelines for photo preservation projects (This need is partly filled) - NHPRC
b. Overall programs dealing with tough solutions that can't all be reached in a year or two; programs which reflect balanced and integrated planning related to needs, methods and resources (NHPRC)
c. Conservation in the context of a more general institutional program of appraisal and collection analysis (weeding) - Dean, NHPRC, NEH
d. A reliably funded preservation program in each research library - ARL
e. Each library should identify and guarantee the safety of certain volumes in original format - ARL
a. Protective enclosures - NHPRC
g. Disaster preparedness - W

6. Reproduction (Text Preservation) and Reproduction Equipment
a. Estimating cost of alternative conservation treatments, to compare with filming cost - L&A
b. A way to choose the most valuable books and other materials to save through microfilming, etc. - McC, NEH, At
c. More microfilming and photocopying projects, to save the information (NHPRC)
d. Duplication of nitrate film or preparation of a copy negative of deteriorating prints NHPRC
e. Improved filming equipment for conservation purposes, to film faster with less damage (e.g. Prismascope) - L&A
f. Microfilm readers that do not scratch film - L&A
g. Guidelines for adequate bibliographical description of microforms - L&A, NEH

7. Regional & Cooperative Centers & Programs
a. Establishment and/or enforcement of standards:
  1. Size of staff and facilities, nature of services, etc. -L&A
  2. Preservation collections, regarding storage, use, bibliographical control, item identification, etc. - ARL
b. Strong state and institutional level programs - (W)
c. Regional centers, cooperative programs - NHPRC, W L&A, NIC, NEH
d. Simple workshop services - L&A
e. Training for local people - W, NEH
f. Specialized services, e.g. mobile unit for fumigation - W, NEH
g. Sharing successful funding/support strategies; seeking funding support - W
h. A "preservation consortium" of research libraries for collective action on preservation - At
i. Local prototype "preservation collections" (best copies of "endangered titles") - ARL
j. Cooperative disaster planning - NEH
k. Regional disaster recovery service - L&A

8. Legislation, Grants, National Policy
a. A national public conservation policy statement - W
b. Continuing support of conservation by NHPRC, NEH and other granting agencies -(W)
c. A master microfilm depositor and bibliographical control of microfilms - W, NEH, ARL
d. National funding programs should insist that individual collections not acquire more than they can maintain properly - NHPRC
e. Preventive conservation at all levels from the national down to the repository (i.e., not taking or keeping something without good reason; not attributing value to original format without good reason; and selling material whose only value is monetary)- (NHPRC)
f. A long-term national strategy for text preservation (= republication, microphotographic reproduction, computer-based storage & retrieval), drawing on techniques of operations research - ARL
g. A national library corporation as a base for collective action by research libraries in the fields of preservation, resource development, and promotion of accessibility - ARL

9. Ethics, Philosophy, Workmanship
a. Standards of ethical practice - W
b. Standards for quality and appropriateness of treatment, materials chosen and testing methods used -L&A

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