The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 2
Feb 1988

Nine Preservation Self-Studies

by Ellen McCrady

Ten or 15 years ago, when I was a relative newcomer to preservation, I was often impatient about its slow acceptance by library administrators, and I couldn't understand their obtuseness in the face of evidence about what was happening to their collections, despite the new knowledge of what could be done about it. At conferences I would often swap anecdotes with like-minded bookbinders, and wonder what could be going on in those administrators' minds.

One day in 1978, in a fit of frustration, I decided to write an editorial in the Abbey Newsletter about this national disgrace, and to get a few background facts I called up Pam Darling long distance, because I had heard she was familiar with the national picture. She listened to my statement of the problem, but instead of sharing my outrage, she told me how she was trying to do something about it. In her work for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), she said, she got calls all the time from library administrators who wanted to know how to start a preservation program, and she was scrambling to find ways to meet their needs for information and guidance. That put a different light on the matter, so I dropped the editorial idea and started covering more news of possible interest to administrators in the Newsletter, hoping that it would do some good.

Within two years, Pam Darling had completed the assisted self-study program now known as the ARL/OMS (Office of Management Studies) Preservation Planning Program, which is the answer to the library director's plaint, "I'd like to start a preservation program here, but what can I do? There are no trained preservation librarians, no information and no one to go to for help." The Program provides the information and the help, and shows how to get a preservation program under way without hiring a specialist, though one of the first things libraries usually do after completing the program is to hire a preservation librarian. The reports of the first three libraries to go through the process were published in 1981 and 1982. Since then, there have been 11 more, of which nine are reviewed here. In chronological order by date on the report's title page, they are:

The self-study process is not cheap and quick; it can't be, because in order to do preservation, people have to know something about it, and it takes time to learn. The average study lasts 11 months or so from the background paper and first committee assignments to completion of the study report, and is said to take 2000 staff hours. Furthermore, because preservation is not a narrow specialty that one person can carry out in one corner of a library, but most pervade all library operations, a large proportion of the staff have to take part in the study. This would be true even if there were not so much work to do, because preservation calls for changes to be made in the old ways of doing things, and staff involvement facilitates these changes. The study typically involves the time of 25 to 38 people. The library pays ARL a fee of $4,000-$9,000, depending on the size of study they want to do. Other library expenses connected with the study usually include environmental monitoring equipment, which costs $750-$l500.

The Office of Management Studies at ARL also has expenses. It provides the study and support materials, consultant time and expenses for three two-day visits, telephone advice and office expenses. Libraries that are members of ARL pay a reduced fee. The program is funded by NEH

Perhaps if the method gains acceptance, regional centers or state cooperative programs can be expected to take over the work now performed by ARL. Perhaps the method has already gained acceptance, and is being quietly carried out in libraries that use local expertise together with the published Preservation Planning Program Manual and Resource Notebook and one or more of the published Study Reports. Certainly similar methods have been used: Jan Merrill-Oldham's single-handed survey of preservation needs at the University of Connecticut, with its 215 recommendations;1 Yale's admirable Preservation Planning Task Force Report, am advanced priority-setting effort;2 and the many preservation surveys by NEDCC and similar organizations that led to full-fledged preservation programs in the organizations surveyed, perhaps with a grant-funded preservation project along the way.

Of the nine reports considered here, the easiest to read and most interesting and useful, in my opinion, are those of Northwestern and NLM, because they are well thought out, well written and typed for easy reading. The OSU report is ingeniously thorough and clear, though too much influenced by that writing style I call "librarianese," for my taste. The CRL report is also well done, but since CRL is such an unusual collection with a unique mission, its report may not be too useful to other libraries. The Smithsonian and Ohio State reports include a lot of information, showing careful work by task force and study team members. The smaller libraries generally turned in shorter reports, averaging about 35 pages, and were less likely to have a knowledgeable preservation person on the study team.

Unfortunately, none of the reports is physically easy to read because of the binding, or rather, the lack of binding. All of then, even those over 100 pages long, are simply stapled in the upper corner. They drove ma crazy. I had to adhesive-bind the thickest ones before I was able to read them for this review.

The next problem was to compare them systematically and get the general picture. Although most of the reports reflect the concepts and study outline of the Manual, different libraries chose to cover different aspects of preservation, and of course all of the recommendations were in a different order and tailored for the individual library. The solution I chose was very time-consuming but satisfying: I stamped the number of each report and the page number by every interesting paragraph, including most of the recommendations; photocopied all those pages at reduced size; and cut and sorted the passages by subject:

  1. Condition of the collection; the survey
  2. Environmental conditions (see also Storage & handling; Organization)

    a. Cleanliness
    b. Exhibitions

  3. Storage and handling (see also Environmental conditions; Education)

    a. Restricted access; transfer to Special Collections
    b. Book drops

  4. Education of staff and public (see also #2 & 3, above)
  5. Disaster control

    a. Pest control
    b. Security; food in the library

  6. Replacement & reformatting (microfilming, photocopying of brittle books, brittle books programs)

    a. Optical disks

  7. Treatment (binding, repair, conservation)

    a. Mass deacidification

  8. Organization

    a. Acid-free paper
    b. Cooperation
    c. Follow-up and evaluation
    d. Funding, resources
    e. Implementation
    f. Personnel
    g. Policy

It was now possible to compare findings on the more interesting topics, and even to paste them up on sheets of paper for photocopy masters, in case other people wanted than. (This has been done for topics 2a, 2b, 3b, 5b, 7a, 8a, 8c and 8d--nine pages in all. To receive a copy, send a self-addressed envelope with 39 postage on it to the Newsletter office.) The other clipped passages were merely bundled together. It would be nice if someone had the time to compile the material from all 14 studies, and do a thorough job of it. I was forced to take some short cuts with this review, and may have failed to include some of the material.

1. Condition of the collection. In general, these libraries were in better condition than one would expect, given the commonly cited figure of 30% as the proportion of American library books that are brittle. Less than 20% of their collections was brittle. The worst figures (30%-34%) were for SIL Northwestern and CRL The libraries with fewest brittle books were the University of Oregon and NLM (9%-l0%).

2. Environmental conditions. The library environment (temperature, relative humidity, light and pollution levels) is hard to control because many conditions cannot be corrected without major building alterations, or even tearing down the building and starting over again. Still, it is surprising how many measures could be recommended by these libraries to correct conditions they uncovered in their environmental surveys. When ultraviolet radiation was found to be above 75 uwatts/lumen, they recommended installing UV filters; microfilm masters were to be moved to locations with better storage conditions; monitoring was to continue; broken equipment to be fixed; light timer switches installed where possible; and so on. OSU recommended high efficiency dust filters, but NLM was the only library to plan for complete pollution control, for gases as well as dust.

2a. Exibits. Two libraries recommended formulation of exhibit guidelines, to prevent damage to exhibited materials. (See notice of Harvard's guidelines, in the Literature Section of the last issue, p. 16.)

2b. Cleanliness. Almost all the libraries recommended cleaning the collections, and the rooms in which they are kept, on a regular basis, though none of then justified this procedure as a very effective way of discouraging insects and mold (which it is). None of the libraries is located in the humid Deep South, which has serious problems with pests.

3. Storage and handling. This included shelving and transport of books including oversize books, the storage problem, care and maintenance of microfilm, acid-free storage materials, inter-library loan packing guidelines, dropping use of paper clips and pressure-sensitive tapes, and improving photocopying facilities and practices.

3a. Restricted access & transfer to Special Collections. By the time they went through the self-study, many libraries may have already set up restricted-access areas for fragile materials. I noticed recommendations from only three of the libraries. (The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ALA drew up some guidelines for transfer to Special Collections, which were published in the September 1987 College & Research Libraries News. Earlier drafts were available to these libraries in published form at the time of their study, so it is not surprising that they did not bother to draft their own recommendations from scratch.)

3b. Book drops. At least five of the nine libraries commented on this problem and recommended improved carts, frequent emptying of carts, smoke detectors in the room behind the drop slot and so on. One (OSU) eliminated four book drops without adverse reactions, and one (SUNY Stony Brook) recommended closing book drops when the library was open.

4. Education. The need for staff training, patron awareness and information dissemination received a good deal of attention from all libraries.

5. Disaster control. This was typically given high priority in the recommendations sections, and usually included a disaster plan, sprinklers and alarms, staff organization and training, and supply kits. OSU recommended buying a Wei T'o Book Dryer and wet/dry vacuum cleaners, and securing a contract with American Freeze Dry to cover at least 1% of the collections.

5a. Pest control. Several libraries mentioned improving fumigation facilities or practices, but I didn't see any mention of integrated pest management, which emphasizes prevention and specific, targeted responses to invasion.

5b. Security; food in the library. Little attention was given to security, a concern related to preservation but hard to address without special training and facilities. Two libraries recommended increased enforcement of existing policies against food consumed in work areas.

6. Replacement and reformatting. Two libraries recommended using an outside contractor to microfilm brittle books and one expected to expand existing facilities; several planned to start a preservation photocopying program, and to replace more deteriorated books through purchase of microfilm or herd copy.

6a. Optical disks. The NLM and OSU plan to keep an eye on this developing technology.

2a. Exhibits. Two libraries recommended formulation of

7. Treatment. Before the survey, repair was typically carried out in a decentralized way without training or policy; recommendations include intercept programs (the practice of setting aside, at the circulation desk or elsewhere, all books needing repair). Other recommendations are fairly predictable (improved training, policy, facilities) except that CRL has a policy against any bet very minimal mending, and OSU plans to encourage quick on-site repair. OSU also plans to start a conservation laboratory. There were few recommendations relating to commercial binding.

7a. Mass deacidification. NLM plans to deacidify 100,000 volumes annually starting in FY 1988, or it did at the time of its 1985 report. Colorado State recommended keeping a lookout for a regional deacidification program. Northwestern is serious about gaining access to a mass deacidification facility as soon as it can, and has imposed a yearly cumulative 1% levy on the book and serial funds, up to 9% to finance it. Since the report, Northwestern has kept current with developments, and has kept other libraries in their part of the country informed.

8. Organization. The first four study reports recommend locating the new preservation department in the following divisions:

Collection Development
Reference Services
Collection Services
Collections Management

Nobody recommended placing it in Technical Services. Four reports did not suggest a placement (perhaps because they liked it where it already was). The University of Tennessee at Knoxville recommended against having a preservation department at all, though they did want a preservation officer. They saw preservation as naturally the concern of all departments and units in the library system.

8a. Acid-free paper. Four reports included recommendations for encouraging use of acid-free paper, obviously so that collections would last longer. The NLM has since held a "hearing" on the subject, with good results (AN March 1987, p. 19a and 119).

8b. Cooperation. Five libraries recommended supporting cooperative efforts, by which they might mean a) taking part in divide-the-work cooperation, as in a cooperative microfilming program, b) support of national programs such as that of the Commission on Preservation and Access, from which everyone stands to benefit, c) altruistic and/or reciprocal actions, such as distributing and sharing of information about preservation, d) coordination with other programs so as to avoid working at cross purposes, e) development of a national program for certain materials, or f) promotion of preservation awareness. All of these were listed under "Cooperation" by one or more libraries. "Cooperation" now has so many meanings in the library world that it has become hard to understand what people mean when they use it.

8c. Follow-up, evaluation. Most of the libraries included in their preservation plan some provision for regular evaluation of progress.

8d. Funding. At least five libraries tackled this tough question realistically. Like all the other recommendations funding recommendations were usually specific about whose responsibility it was to carry out the recommendations what the probable cost would be in terms of money or tine, and a deadline.

8e. Implementation. The manual encourages participants to make up realistic implementation plans, summarizing recommendations by who will carry them out, and by year of implementation. NLM SIL and the University of Oregon have done a thorough job of this.

8f. Personnel. Additional staff is recommended by five or so libraries, usually including a preservation officer. A preservation committee is usually to carry on until the preservation officer can be hired. Others mentioned: conservation technician, book repair personnel, administrative assistant, assistant building manager. The University of Oregon wanted a "person to be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the Preservation Resources Data Base," using information from the staff--a continuation of the data base accumulated for this study.

8g. Policy. Most of the libraries made a number of specific and/or fairly sweeping recommendations on policy, e.g., "Establish a policy to be followed when evidence of vermin within the library is discovered," and "Review all existing and proposed policies to incorporate preservation concerns. Recommendations on policy are obviously easier to make and implement in the course of a large, visible project like this than under ordinary conditions, even by a preservation administrator.

The Preservation Planning Program seems to be quite successful in overcoming the inertia of uncommitted libraries, and the Office of Management Studies has been very helpful with its information and publications program in helping the libraries that have not undergone the self-study. As a result, almost half of ARL's 118 members now have well-established preservation programs, according to the ARL Committee on Preservation of Research Library Materials.3 Still, many of the directors of the surveyed libraries without programs thought there was a shortage of educational materials, practical advice and guidelines for job descriptions, budgeting, planning and so on. Apparently an information program makes little impression by itself. The inertia must be extremely hard to overcome. It is some comfort to know that the Preservation Planning Program has not come to an end, and that granting agencies are able to offer inducements that have a record for overcoming inertia.

[Note: The reports not reviewed here are:

  1. Dartmouth College - 1981. 25 pp.
  2. University of Virginia - 1981. 58 pp.
  3. University of Washington - 1981. 38 pp.
  4. University of Missouri-Columbia - 1986. 56 pp.
  5. Iowa State University - 1987. 48 pp.

All 14 study reports are available for $10 apiece (except NLM's which is $15 because NLM is not an ARL member, and its study was not subsidized). The Manual is $15, and the three-ring Resource Notebook (675 photocopied pages of preservation literature chosen for its usefulness in selfstudies) is $35. All can be ordered from: ARL Office of Management Studies, 1527 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036 (202/232-8656).]


1. Jan Merrill-Oldham. Conservation and Preservation of Library Materials: A Program for the University of Connecticut Libraries. Storrs: Univ. of Connecticut Library, 1984.

2. Gay Walker, "Preservation Planning and the Conspectus at Yale University," CAN No. 31, Oct. 1987, p. 8-9.

3. "ARL Committee Surveys Preservation Needs," ARL Newsletter No. 135, June 12, 1987, p. 10-12.

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