The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 3
May 1985

British Library Offers Leadership

A few years ago the British Library, through its Research and Development Department, commissioned an investigation of preservation in libraries in Great Britain. It was directed by Dr. F. Ratcliffe and completed in September 1983. The final report, published March 1984, concluded that "there is a lack, nationally, of preservation expertise, training facilities, earmarked funds, co-ordination among libraries and use of the new preservation technologies." It recommended action on three levels: in individual libraries; cooperatively; and nationally. The national functions would be carried out through a "National Advisory and Research Centre" and would involve primarily information, coordination, training, research and some treatment, though some of these would also go on at the cooperative and local level. In a response to Dr. Ratcliffe's report, the British Library has now offered to handle the information and coordination functions itself and to cooperate with the Center (or Centers, if there are separate ones for different functions) on the other functions.

For individual libraries, the report recommended several activities: educating the policy makers, creating conservation awareness in staff, getting preservation into budget proposals, surveying collections, formulating disaster plans, upgrading binding and enclosure practices, and compiling a policy statement. The British Library's response says it endorses and follows all these recommendations (Its Preservation Service Directorate has an annual budget of £6 million.)

Ten cooperative activities are recommended by the report and endorsed by the British Library. They are summarized or quoted in full below.

  1. Through professional associations, press for more teaching of preservation in library schools (the BL offers to teach).
  2. "Libraries should promote training for binders and conservators in appropriate ways and should encourage management structures with progressive salary scales for binders and conservators commensurate with their status and importance."
  3. Inform related industries and professional associations of preservation requirements, "noting the modest success achieved in the United States in this connection."
  4. Produce a basic manual for library staff on conservation, including library binding. (The BL offers to help draw up national guidelines for dealing with binders.)
  5. Improve microfilm standards and bibliographic control, and encourage cooperative action.
  6. Cooperate with archives and other organizations on preservation.
  7. Look into cooperation in collection development (like American libraries do) and in new areas such as instruction for the staff at the local and national level.
  8. ". . ...Emphasize the standards of environmental control necessary to conservation" and set up contingency plans for use when controls fail. (The BL is willing to share its experience in collection management and in the specifications for its new building.)
  9. Urge establishment of shared facilities for mass deacidification, photography and other processes. (The BL might consider building a mass deacidification plant on a cooperative basis.)
  10. Press for establishment of a national advisory and research center.

This information is from "Response of the British Library to Dr. Ratcliffe's Report, 'Preservation Policies and Conservation in British Libraries' ," a single-spaced eight-page typescript available from the British Library, Press and Public Relations, 2 Sheraton St., London W1V 4BH, England.

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