The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 15, Number 1
Feb 1991


Ross Harvey. Preservation in Australian and New Zealand Libraries: Principles, Strategies and Practices for Librarians. (Topics in Australasian Library &A Information Studies, No. 3) 373 pp. ISBN 0-949060-11-9. A$50.00 (about US$35.50) from Centre for Information Studies, PO Box 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2650, Australia. Printed on permanent paper, sewn, grain parallel to spine.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

It was a welcome surprise to open this book and realize that we now have a first-class general text on library preservation, one that is well-balanced, detailed, accurate, sensible, complete, and well-provided with references to all the best literature. Teachers of preservation in library schools will find it suitable as a textbook, if they can make allowance for Australian money units and a few other local terms. Their students will appreciate having a book so compact and authoritative, one they can refer to easily in the future.

There is a detailed table of contents, ten chapters each followed by a generous list of bibliographical notes, six readings from Australasian sources, a select bibliography, and an index. The chapters are headed:

Overview: The Problems, Causes, and Solutions

Why Library Materials Deteriorate

Surveying the Library: Determining Suitability of Environment and Extent of Deterioration

Controlling the Environment

An Attitude of Respect: Careful Handling and the Education of Users and Librarians

Disaster Preparedness

Preserving the Artefact: Maintenance and Repair Procedures, and Binding

Preserving the Intellectual Content: Reformatting

Technological and Cooperative Strategies

Developing a Library Preservation Program

Whoever set up the List of Tables in the front of the book left out one table and got the numbers and page numbers mixed up. otherwise, the proofreading and editing are very good.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the Introduction, to give the flavor of the author's style:

This book is written for practising librarians and information workers in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, and for students of librarianship in these countries. It aims to provide for the thinking librarian and student a framework for further reflection on the problems of preservation and for research into their solutions. It is not primarily intended for archivists and records managers, although there will be much of interest to them in it. Nor is it a "how-to-do-it" manual. It will not provide much assistance for those who want to learn how to carry out technical conservation procedures, and it does not purport to describe the technical procedures which are properly the province of trained conservators and trained conservation technicians. The examples it uses are mainly, but not exclusively, relevant to paper-based materials, for these are still by far the most strongly represented formats represented in our library collections. I have hypothesized as the reader a "typical" librarian, one who is likely to have a modicum of secondary school level science background, who is probably concerned with general conservation issues such as those relating to the environment and to old buildings, and who has a more specific professional interest in, and possibly a need to know more about, all aspects of the preservation of library materials.

This book is, then, for those librarians who take an interest in this major professional issue and who want to acquire further knowledge about it. Such knowledge is essential for making informed decisions about the place of preservation in library procedures, for understanding which standard routines do not needlessly damage library materials and may therefore be retained, and which procedures are not acceptable and must be altered. Furthermore, such knowledge is required for deciding when a problem is beyond the resources of the library and its staff, and when technical advice from professional conservators should be sought.

Canadian Council of Archives. Basic Conservation of Archival Materials: A Guide. 1990. $10 from CCA, 344 Wellington St., Rome 5078, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A ON3. 119 pp. + index (printed in English and French). ISBN 0-929115-W-7

Reviewed by Judith Fortson
Head of Preservation Services, Hoover Institution

This is a useful manual for archivists who are new to the world of preservation. It is not concerned with presenting instructions on the actual treatment of individual items (the term "conservation" is used in this publication in the same way "preservation" has come to be used in the United States): rather, it stresses preventative care and maintenance of collections, concentrating on actions which can be incorporated into the daily activities of an archives. It focuses on small to medium sized institutions, taking a practical approach which is appropriate for the restraints imposed by limited budgets. In keeping with this, the manual routinely makes suggestions which are relatively inexpensive to implement, and which do not require extensive knowledge of preservation/conservation.

One of the qualities I like most about this book is its user-friendliness. The authors want to help archivists understand the rudiments of caring for collections-and they succeed admirably, in clear and simple prose and format. The information presented is not row, but the emphasis on the small archival repository has not previously been handled this completely.

The basic content is arranged in five chapters: Getting Started, Environment, Care, Things Go Wrong, and The Collections. The reader is advised to read them in order since the first four are a prelude to the fifth, which acts as a kind of reference tool for specific questions on a variety of media (though perhaps too wide a variety-this is the most cursorily treated chapter). The sixth chapter contains helpful guidance on "Where to Go For Help" for supplies and general and professional assistance. Realistic directives are given throughout for what is recommended, what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable. Each chapter ends with a selected, current bibliography, brief enough not to overwhelm the novice, or to create confusion about which entries will be most useful, but complete enough to provide adequate sources for additional information. Another very helpful feature is the inclusion of thorough and specific cross-references.

A pragmatic "step" system is used, both in regard to overall planning and to specific areas of activity. For instance, when a budget does not allow for protective enclosures for individual item, the archivist is advised to provide at least (manuscript) boxes for the general collection, and then, when funding allows, individual enclosures for important or original material, with continued upgrading of all enclosures. Another example of the kind of down-to-earth advice given is the inexpensive suggestions for weatherproofing a building. Many of the points made throughout the manual are actually common sense, but valuable, nevertheless, in their scope.

There are some instances where a word of caution regarding a particular action would have been appropriate, as with the potentially harmful side effect (of airborne abrasives) when using dehumidifiers with desiccant crystals. Also, though the authors regularly give reasons why a particular step is important, this is occasionally omitted-as in why a special effort would be made to provide recommended environmental controls for photographic collections, or why they should be stored in unbuffered enclosures. When the reader is advised to place acidic components of intrinsic value into separate enclosures and store them with other items in the collection, it should be noted that the acid may eventually migrate.

Microfilming, which can be an important component of a small or medium-sized preservation program, is treated very briefly. Though additional sources of information are listed, it would have been good to include more specific guidance in the manual, particularly on the use of outside vendors and quality checks of their work. Chapter V does give some useful information on the care and handling of microfilm, but I am uneasy about the recommended use of a "plastic grip clip"-this sounds like something which might result in physical distortion of the film.

There are a few times when information, because of its brevity, my lead to some misunderstanding an the part of the reader. For instance, in the section on motion picture film, caution is made against repairing film with tape, and cement splices are recommended instead. It's true that cement is preferable to triacetate, but if the emulsion is on a polyester base, either tape or an ultrasonic weld would be used-and, if beat is being used in conjunction with cement, such application should never be made on nitrate film.

But these criticism do not override the usefulness of the manual. It serves an important role in the accumulation of practical and clearly presented advice, and for making archivists and others in smaller institutions aware that their daily activities often constitute "hands-on" preservation in its most basic sense.

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