The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 4
Sep 1995


ARL Preservation Statistics Reveal Trends

The Association of Research Libraries has published its 1993/94 statistics for preservation activities in member libraries, and summarized the main findings in the August isue of its newsletter, ARL. The commentary that accompanies the table says that the expansion of preservation programs during the last 15 years appears to be levelling off, although preservation microfilming activity, especially contracted-out microfilming, continues to grow. Grants are relied upon heavily, accounting for 12% of total preservation expenditures.

Two years ago, in the October 1993 issue of this newsletter, the figures for the five years 1987/88 to 1991/92 were graphed for three measures, described below and brought up to date:

  1. Percent of reporting libraries with a preservation administrator. (Trend: steadily upward; an increase of 14% in the first five years; levelling off at 80% of reporting libraries in the last three years.) This measure was calculated for the article by dividing the number of preservation librarians by the number of reporting libraries. If any of them reported more than two preservation librarians, the figure may be deceptively high.
  2. [Average] total library staff engaged in preservation. (Trend: unsteadily upward; an increase of 18% in five years, and 25% in the seven years to date.) This shows that one goal is being reached, that of increasing awareness of, and participation in, preservation throughout the library.
  3. [Average] preservation expenditures. (Trend: consistently but not steadily upward; an increase of 40% in the first five years, and 47% in the seven years to date.)

The table shows 15 figures for each year. The year with the biggest numbers in the most categories was 1991-92. In that year, there were more institutions reporting than in any other year. There were also more preservation administrators; more intermediate conservation treatments jobbed out and more minor inhouse treatments (giving a higher number for both total contract and total inhouse treatment than any other year); and more volumes microfilmed.

Then the recession hit, followed by a political climate that discourages spending on cultural and educational activities, and an increase in certain chronic library problems (e.g., the increasing price of serials). Still, more microfilming (in terms of number of exposures) was done in 1992-93 than any other year, and more titles were microfilmed in 1993-94. Preservation expenditures were slightly higher in 1993-94 than ever before, and slightly more people were doing preservation.

There may be some bias in these figures, because of the fact that price inflation during these seven years is not taken into account, and neither is the growth of ARL libraries. Probably all of them grew in terms of collection size, readers served, interlibrary loans made, and sometimes even in floor space or new equipment, even if not in personnel or budgets. If this general growth is allowed for, the modest growth of preservation activities during the last two years might turn out to be a steady state or loss of ground gained earlier.

But one should resist the temptation to over-analyze an undersized set of data, such as that for the last two or three years. It is better to recognize a short-term trend for what it is, and have the patience to wait for more data before drawing firm conclusions.

ARL Preservation Statisticsis available for $65 prepaid ($25 ARL members) from ARL Publications, Dept. #0692, Washington, DC 20073-0692 (202/296-2296, fax 202/872-0884). (No street address is necessary.) Discounts for five or more copies. Visa and MasterCard accepted. For orders from North America, add $5 for UPS ground or USPS first class.

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