The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 5, Number 6
Dec 1981

Library/Archive Conservation, 1981-2001

The following predictions are the results of a detailed survey conducted as part of Donald B. McKeon's doctoral dissertation in 1981 at Florida State University's School of Library Science: "A Study of the Prognoses of Library Educators and Preservationists on Conservation Training in Library Schools" (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms). It was based upon a questionnaire that went out to conservators (technically-oriented people), conservation administrators, and library school faculty members regarded by their deans as knowledgeable in conservation, as well as others active in the field. Structured as a "Delphi study," it was intended to offer results useful to planners, in the sense that the predictions of the most expert group were expected to correlate with future developments.

The Delphi study was invented by the Rand Corporation, using expert opinion to chart future developments. It differs from a survey in that it not only finds out what the members of a group feel at a given moment but allows them individually to find out what the group idea is and them to alter their own opinions if they wish to do so. Thus they are given a repeated feedback that tends to exclude extremes and reduce the frequency of random replies. As a method of investigation, it is known to be reliable and valid.

This study was based on the following premises:

  1. There are two main interest groups in conservation of library and archival materials: librarians or people with library training, and binders or people with technical training.
  2. These two groups might have divergent expectations of future developments in conservation because of different backgrounds and career structures.
  3. The assumptions underlying the Delphi technique are applicable here.

However, the responses to the survey questionnaires indicated no significant differences in the predictions of the different groups. Offered the chance to revise their views after being told what the average responses were, virtually no respondent chose to adopt the average view.

Since the predictions of the various groups were not found to be significantly different from those of other groups, the second premise, plausible as it may seem, is invalidated. The most interesting thing is that opinions held are extremely strongly held. The lack of movement was quite significant, especially for the educators.


The period 1981-2001 will be a period of economic stringency, overshadowing even the shortage of trained conservation personnel and the increased difficulty in the area of controlling environments. National governments will continue to bear some of the responsibility for conservation of the cultural heritage.

Books and photographs produced after 1880 will be seen as in greater danger and will receive priority in treatment. Despite the advances in reprography, originals will be still retained.

Outside centers will most often be made use of for conservation, with microfilming and mass deacidification employed for the preservation of materials. Industrially organized library binders may become important in the restoration field.

It is unclear whether conservation will concentrate on simpler technologies with more manual operations or sophisticated technologies requiring fewer hands.

Except for a predicted reliance on external facilities and distrust of committing library and archives materials to courses which are irreversible, the technologies to be used are not at all clear.

Custodians will retain their traditional role of choosing materials to be preserved and in what order, but there will be some movement to involve them in responsibility for specifying technical processes.

Conservation administrators will usually no longer have been bench conservators. Library schools will offer conservation courses, stressing developing conservation consciousness and familiarity with effects of different treatments. A wide knowledge of the field will be more important than manual skills.

For these courses, faculty members will need to be trained conservators and a mew training facility will be established in connection with some existing institution. Its student body will consist of science graduates and library personnel. Graduates will receive the certificate or degree for entrance into the conservation community. Informal acceptance will not suffice in the future.

(Some inconsistencies, observes Dr. McKeon, are evident for the future: trained conservators will be wanted to teach librarians and archivists, but library schools will produce only administrators; librarians will learn technology and avoid making technical decisions.)

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