The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 5, Number 6
Dec 1981

Developing Preservation Programs

Pan Darling, in her new article, "Creativity vs. Despair" (Library Trends, Fall 1981), describes four hindrances to proper development of preservation programs in libraries. She puts them in the form of "observations" and discusses and makes recommendations for each one. The observations, and summaries of her comments, follow.

  1. Observation: Mistrust and inadequate communication between "bench people" and "paper pushers" have delayed the development and application of new techniques.

    (Because of differing goals and values of these two dissimilar occupational groups, their initial tendencies are to talk at cross purposes and to ignore each other's needs. It takes a long while to build up trust and respect for each other's contribution.)

  2. Observation: Emphasis on cooperative approaches to preservation at too early a stage can actually retard preservation program development.

    (People and institutions tend to hold off on developing their own programs, even when the program in question is not appropriate for a cooperative solution, and even when a cooperative solution is possible only if it can build on existing local programs.)

  3. Observation: Vision and inspiration at the highest levels of leadership are essential to the development of a profession's commitment to solve new problems, but senior leaders are seldom in a position to devise the practical methods and routines that will constitute working programs.

    (Painstaking groundwork, at the level of daily routines and middle management concerns, is as necessary for the development of a preservation plan as the broad planning of top management--in fact, it is a prerequisite for the success of broad plans at the national level.)

  4. Observation: Interest in and planning for the preservation of library materials has been heavily weighted toward the needs of paper records, especially bound volumes, leading to a dangerous neglect of the preservation needs of other materials.

    (Non-print media collections are usually segregated by format and are not well integrated into the operational mainstream of the library. Despite the rapid growth of these collections, despite the damage to the records caused by the machines with which they are used, and despite the short life of some of the formats in the collections, they are given less care than book collections. Needed: integration into institution-wide plans for preservation; more knowledge and instruction on the needs of non-print materials.)

Because of its relevance to planning for a national preservation program, the second of the above four observations on the development of programs is reprinted below, along with the author's comments in full.*

Observation: Emphasis on cooperative approaches to preservation at too early a stage can actually retard preservation program development. There can be little doubt that cooperation is essential to avoiding wasteful duplication in preservation microfilming activities, or that regional or network support of such centralizable services as master copy storage, disaster assistance, and provision of special preservation treatment facilities makes good economic sense. However, effective cooperative programs can best be developed by pooling and then building upon experience and skills from within the cooperating institutions. Without a common knowledge base, needs cannot be accurately identified, nor can programs to meet those needs be intelligently planned, implemented or evaluated. The theoretical promise of solutions through cooperative action has often led to inaction at the local level. Individuals or institutions may be afraid to initiate something that might not fit into a larger system at some future time. Or they may be reluctant to commit the time required for development of a program in the belief that they can more economically replicate a program developed and offered through some cooperative agency.

Two significant factors in this situation are, first, the distinction between those activities which cam best or only be performed through cooperation and those which must go forward in each institution even after cooperative programs are fully operational; and second, the matter of timing. Every library must accept the responsibility for improving its own storage conditions and handling practices, for educating itself about improvements in care and repair methods, binding, reproduction, and the myriad other technical matters involved in preserving collections. To the extent that cooperative resources--workshops, consulting or treatment services, information clearinghouses--are available they should be exploited; but their [availability or] scarcity does not negate that local responsibility. Indeed, only as institutions move forward individually without waiting for "them" to lead the way will a collective preservation capability emerge, because of course "we" are "they." Thus to the issue of timing: individual and cooperative developments will take place alternately, with individual action always leading. Library A develops a method for treatment of material which is shared through some cooperative mechanism with Libraries B and C. B and C adapt it, improve on it, share the results with A, and together they produce a cooperative standard of practice or even a centralized facility for this treatment that is them shared with Libraries D and E. D and E try it, improve on it--and the process goes on. Cooperation is vital, but if too many institutions see themselves in the D and E category, waiting for A, B and C to start things for them, the process will be very slow.

*Reprinted with permission from: Darling, Pamela W. "Creativity vs. Despair: The Challenge of Preservation Administration." Library Trends, vol. 30, No. 2, Fall 1981, pp. 182-183. ©1981 Board of Trustees of The University of Illinois.

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