The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 16, Number 1
Feb 1992

Consensus Builds for a National Preservation Strategy

Since 1976, when the Library of Congress held a planning conference for a national preservation program, a number of groups and organizations have described what they thought this country should have in the way of a comprehensive preservation strategy. The White House Conference on Library and Information Science (WHCLIS), Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), [CPA] Review and Assessment Committee, Council on Library Resources (CLR), Society of American Archivists (SAA), American Library Association, and a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Preservation Committee have all made more or less detailed statements on this topic, which they refer to variously as a national, nationwide or North American strategy, plan, policy or program. ALA refers to its preservation policy as just that, although by implication it is intended to be nationwide. Both the ALA and SAA statements, though, include only those actions which their members might undertake or support.

The 1976 conference, the 1984 Exxon grant to CLR that established the Mid-Atlantic Preservation Service (MAPS) and CPA, and the early descriptions of the CPA's mission all focussed on the brittle books problem, particularly on microfilming of brittle books, although they all used terminology suggesting a comprehensive approach. (They were handicapped at that time by a lack of tried and proven options for deteriorated materials, a situation to which Warren Haas drew attention in his summary of the conference.) In the last two years, however, envisioned programs have been numerous, well thought out and commendably broad in scope.

At the 116th ARL meeting in May 1990, Joseph Rosenthal (University of California-Berkeley), a member of the ARL Preservation Committee, described goals that he believed should be built into a North American Preservation Plan:

The ALA preservation policy, developed at the instigation of then-president Pat Berger, went through a series of group reviews and represents a good consensus. Of course it applies only to libraries, but it covers permanence of both electronic and traditional media; national and international standards; a national preservation policy for both programs and funding; research on deterioration; lobbying and public relations work for preservation funding; and education and outreach. It emphasizes the importance of certain preservation activities: provision of good storage conditions, treatment, preservation in original format, replacement, reformatting, planning for new buildings or renovations, and security.

One of the 94 recommendations approved at the White House Conference dealt with a national preservation policy. (The very democratic and laborious process by which these recommendations to the President of the United States were chosen is described in the May 1991 issue, on p. 38.) Since it is short, the final version can be reprinted here in its entirety:

Preservation Policy, Needs Assessment, and Implementation

Congress shall adopt a national preservation policy to ensure the preservation of our information resources. The assessment of preservation needs should be clearly articulated with adequate funding provided for implementation of this policy. This policy must include:

a) A broad-based program of preservation education and training is essential to the long-term development of a multi-institutional preservation effort; b) A comprehensive policy for preserving information on non-paper media; c) The development and dissemination of new technologies, standards, and procedures in our libraries, archives and historical organizations; d) Increased federal funding to support existing regional preservation centers and to create new centers in unserved regions of the country.

Together, these resources will help to ensure that small libraries, archives, and historical organizations will have access to the information and services they need to preserve their collections.

The complete text includes three "justifications" and 15 "implementation strategies" addressed to Congress and the Administration.

The report of the Review and Assessment Committeeon the CPA's policies and work appeared last fall and was reviewedon p. 135 in the December issue of this Newsletter. The Committee recommended a national strategy that would give less emphasis to microfilming of brittle books in major research libraries, one that would make coordination, extended funding, and standardization possible.

The SAA has not yet published its "Nationwide Strategy for Archival Preservation" (which also has a more distinctive title, "Preserving History's Future: Nationwide Initiatives for the Preservation and Use of the Archival Record"), but the prepublication copies that are circulating show that it too has a broad scope. It lists seven objectives, each with its own set of specific initiatives. The objectives are:

  1. Increase public commitment to preserve and use the historical record.
  2. Support comprehensive education and training program s .
  3. Support the development of comprehensive preservation management programs and activities.
  4. Identify and promote the use of systematic selection procedures for appropriate preservation strategies. Encourage the development and dissemination of technical standards for preservation processes.
  5. Facilitate access to preserved collections.
  6. Support research and dissemination of research findings on archival preservation and related topics.

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