At the initiative of the National Preservation Program Office at the Library of Congress, and with broad sponsorship, the first-ever national conference on state preservation programs was held March 1-3 in Washington, DC. It was well-attended, with nearly every state represented, and well-timed, since state programs are hot right now, though most of them are still struggling to find their direction. It was helpful, very helpful, and it encouraged the state librarians, archivists and other heads of key organizations that made up the audience to take leadership and cooperate when they went hack to their state. And it was fun. Several speakers remarked on the hilarious jokes of the speakers who preceded them, and the audience was gratifyingly responsive.
The whole thing was recorded simultaneously on two tapes: one simply picked up the sound from its strategically placed microphone, and the other was part of a system like courts use to record their proceedings, with a professional recording person speaking into a mouthpiece to record what he heard. It will be transcribed and made available later.
Here are a few excerpts from my notes.
Carolyn Morrow called up some of the people beforehand (it was an invitational conference) and asked them what made the difference, in their experience, between a state preservation program that succeeded and one that didn't. They sad, 1) whether there was sufficient knowledge about preservation in the state, 2) whether there was an established pattern of cooperation in any field, to build on, 3) whether there was a lead agency with a focus and key people, and 4) whether they have access to the legislature, and/or public exposure.
Larry Hackman, who as state archivist has been intimately involved in New York's successful preservation programs, concluded on the basis of his experience that preservation is not a library, archival or other issue, but is a public issue. Preservation is not separate: it is part of access, acquisition, everything. The problems are not always in the documents--often you have moldy managers and brittle staff.
Advice to the audience from speakers and other members of the audience was appreciated, in view of the fact that there is no manual on how to start a state preservation plan. To promote cooperation among institutions that have traditionally been competitive: Make your proposal at a time of turnover when turf is not as vigorously defended; meet at each other's institutions; start with a project that is high on everyone's priority list in the area at the time; and work with a regional center like SOLINET.
Keep the organization fluid, one person advised. Keep the participants talking but don't have bylaws or a constitution. Build on previous work, like the NHPRC Records Needs Assessment Project reports.
There was one session on fundraising, and one on relating to the legislature and the public, both with a lot of good advice and inspiring examples. They are hard to summarize or even pick out pithy remarks from, but they will be instructive and amusing to read in the transcribed proceedings, where the pithy remarks can be seen in context and will do the most good.
Nancy Sahli, one of the speakers, reminded the audience that not everything can be done through states. Sometimes an interstate organization, or one taking in only part of a state, night be better. Other speakers emphasized the need for state and national programs to work together for maximum affect.