Volume 26, Number 6
Essential Elements for Starting a Library
by Patricia K. Turpening
This article is for you if you are in one of these categories:
you have already identified the preservation of your materials as an
area of concern, if your collection contains books valuable to your
constituencies because of local interest or rarity, if you wonder
what to do with numerous nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
books printed on brittle paper, or if your library has books damaged
by untrained but well-meaning staff members. At least one of these
scenarios probably describes a great many of you.
Many elements are necessary to start and maintain a successful
preservation program. Each one discussed here can be implemented
independently, but a comprehensive program designed to have the
greatest impact on a library's collections must include every one of
- Support from the library administration is essential.
Preservation activities need to be institutionalized, and the higher
the percentage of books in the categories described above, the more
important that is. Since preserving them is neither easy nor
inexpensive, the library director must decide where preservation
responsibilities will be located in the organizational chart. Minor
actions, such as dusting books and closing window blinds, can be
handled without a program per se, but libraries with many old,
deteriorated or valuable volumes need the organization and direction
that a full-fledged program provide.
- One staff member needs to hold ultimate responsibility for the
preservation program, and the duties must be incorporated into that
person's job description. These are some of the typical duties:
formulate policies and procedures for the preservation and physical
treatment of all library materials, evaluate and determine treatment
options, perform or supervise other staff members who perform
appropriate treatment on materials, have ultimate responsibility for
stacks maintenance, including book dusting, and determines
appropriate housing for materials, including phase boxes.
Typically, the person in charge of preservation is in the technical
services department, but will be in charge of educating all staff
members about preservation and for coordinating preservation
activities throughout the library.
- A budget line should be established. The Association of
Research Libraries has determined that an appropriate amount is 3-5
percent of the library's acquisitions budget. Therefore, a library
which spends $1 million for acquisitions should plan to spend
$30-$50 thousand to preserve its collection. The budget covers
reformatting costs (microfilming or preservation photocopying only,
since digitizing does not preserve intellectual content long-term),
equipment, supplies, specialty binding services such as individual
phase boxes or hinge boxes, pamphlet binders or other types of
archival-quality housing for items which need protection on the
shelf, as well as fees for a one-time consultant to assist in
setting up a program or in conducting a collection survey. It is
important that the costs of preserving materials be incorporated
into the costs of acquiring them. Donors of books should be asked
to make a contribution to help preserve them. Other sources of
funds: a portion of the acquisitions or supplies budgets, user fees,
- A survey of your library's current preservation activities and
building conditions needs to be compiled in-house or by an outside
consultant. The leaflet, "What an Institution can do to Survey its
own Preservation Needs" is a comprehensive listing of areas to be
considered. It is available from the Northeast Document
Conservation Center (NEDCC) at 508-470-1010. Another helpful
listing is the NEDCC Technical Leaflet, "Priority Actions for
Preservation," found at the website http://www.nedcc.org. Those
responsible for the building structure, HVAC system, and fire
protection need to be consulted. A needs-assessment survey,
including specific goals and objectives for programs, will be
included in the final report. Large libraries with numerous
separate collections may need to conduct additional surveys to
determine the needs of each one.
- Based on the findings of the survey, priorities can be
determined. Conditions which immediately endanger the collection,
such as a leaking roof or faulty wiring, need to be addressed first.
As far as collections are concerned, staff members need to decide
which titles, special collections, or other categories have the most
pressing needs. Is the foreign and international law collection
without peers in the region but in poor condition? Are the spines of
the state reporters loose and in danger of coming off entirely? Is
the rare book collection in need of dusting and improved
ventilation? The NEDCC Technical Leaflet, "Considerations for
Prioritizing," discusses many factors relevant to this
decision-making process and has a grid for charting the impact and
the feasibility of possible preservation actions.
- Physical plant staff should correct deficiencies and improve
environmental conditions, especially those which stabilize the
temperature and relative humidity levels, and prevent the growth of
mold. Since many of these projects are large-scale, budgeting for
them may be a challenge. Investigate amortizing the expenditures
over several years. Those with veto power will need convincing
evidence of the necessity of these large amounts. Be prepared with
statistics from Conservation OnLine (CoOL) documents found at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu.
Such large-scale projects are not the only steps which can have a
positive effect, however. Several small-scale changes, such as
blocking radiant heat from radiators and weatherstripping doors, are
in another NEDCC Technical Leaflet, "Low-Cost/No-Cost Improvements
in Climate Control." Do as much as possible in this regard because
improving environmental controls is the preservation action with the
greatest long-term impact on collections.
- All available options for repairs, reformatting, boxing,
binding, replacing, and housing need to be identified. Contact
other area librarians for the sources they use and their comments,
pro or con. Investigate the services of your commercial binder but
don't stop there. Since their services are of high quality, they
will be more expensive than work done in-house. That level of
workmanship may be justified only for rare books. Alternatively,
sturdy, acid-free phase boxes can be made quickly and inexpensively
in-house. Consider cooperating with other law libraries to reformat
a title in poor condition or to contract with a publisher to reprint
a title or set.
- A staff member should be trained to do standard book repairs.
This person needs to have dexterity in order to work with paper and
books and be attentive to details. Set aside a space for the
repairs, even if it is shared. Use only archival-quality materials.
Two companies which supply them are University Products (http://www.universityproducts.com)
and Gaylord (http://www.gaylord.com). Refer to
two leaflets at the AMIGOS website (http://www.amigos.org): "AMIGOS
Book Repair Workshop Supplies List" and "Selecting Preservation
Supplies: Some Basic Guidelines." A source for basic information on
book repair is part of the Gaylord Preservation Pathfinder Series
and can be found at http://www.gaylord.com/pams/Path4.pdf.
- This same staff member should be trained at a hands-on workshop.
Locate a workshop or someone qualified to teach one through contacts
with area librarians. If there are no workshops available locally,
one library or several can contract with NEDCC, SOLINET (http://www.solinet.net), or the
Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (http://www.ccaha.org). Each one of
them has staff members who conduct workshops for a travel fee.
- Full-fledged preservation programs are characterized by several
written documents. A long-range preservation plan spells out
specifically what needs to be done in order to reach certain goals.
For instance, a library with afternoon sunlight shining on
bookstacks from uncovered windows could plan to purchase and install
floor-to-ceiling blinds on all affected windows. Another library,
which shelves books close to ceiling tiles in violation of its fire
code, may shift books or move them to off-site storage in order to
prevent a disaster. A source to use for writing this plan is
Sherylyn Ogden's Preservation Planning: Guidelines for Writing
a Long-Range Plan published by NEDCC in 1997. It can be
obtained from the American Association of Museums at 202-289-9127.
Assistance for compiling a disaster plan is at the SOLINET website.
These are vital in any type of emergency and need to be updated
annually. Libraries also need written contracts with their
commercial binderies. The contract should refer to the newest
binding industry standard, ANSI/NISO/LBI Z39.78-2000, downloadable
- Resources to learn about preservation take several forms. There
are numerous helpful websites. Make use of their articles, forms,
products, and other information. NEDCC's website contains two
outstanding resources: Preservation 101, an online course, and the
third edition of Preservation of Library & Archival
Materials: A Manual. Don't overlook print sources, as they
are more comprehensive than most individual websites. Investigate
workshops in topics such as library binding and disaster planning.
- Programs on preservation should be conducted for staff and
patrons. Since knowing how best to care for materials is not
intuitive, everyone who has contact with library materials needs to
be taught how to reinforce the actions of those on the staff who are
responsible for preservation measures. This web- program from
Northwestern University has cute graphics and is a useful tool about
care and handling of books: http://staffweb.library.northwestern.edu/preservation/chlm/index.html.
- Grants are available to help cover the expenses of setting up a
preservation program and for specific projects, such as those to
microform or digitize collections. Check out the SOLINET website for
a leaflet called "Funding Resources for Preservation." Preservation
Assistance Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (http://www.neh.gov) cover expenses for
consultations with preservation professionals, general preservation
or conservation assessments, attendance at preservation workshops
and training programs, and the purchase of preservation supplies and
Making the tough decisions needed to preserve library materials
is an essential part of managing a library. Think about your own
collection. Can you readily identify volumes in need of attention?
Has a water leak been patched but not entirely fixed? Are you
spending too much money to have books rebound which could be
repaired in-house? Do you have a number of books set aside for
attention but no one trained to make repairs? Your materials are too
valuable to be ignored once they are purchased and shelved. These
tips will help you to make strides to preserve them. Good luck in
This article originally appeared in AALL Spectrum,
v.6 no. 7 (April 2002), p. 10-11.
all CoOL documents]
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