The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 17, Number 4
Sep 1993

The Future of Preservation Education: Notes from the PI Institute

by Andrew Hart

The author is Preservation Intensive (PI) Institute Assistant Coordinator.

The Preservation Intensive Institute, an NEH-supported continuing education program held for the first time this summer, was an experiment in preservation education. Recognizing the need for advanced level programs in library and archival preservation, five schools of library and information science have collaborated to produce a series of one-week institutes, held at a different participating institution each summer.1 The first PI Institute drew preservation managers from across the country to the University of Pittsburgh during the first week of August, 1993.

Participants in the PI Institute represented university libraries, state archives, museum libraries, and regional networks. Each came to the Institute with expertise in preservation, whether gained through formal training or years of working experience.

The significance of prior skill level among participants was twofold. First, a relatively high skill level enabled classes of a more advanced and focused nature than are usually allowed by summer workshops. Second, the collective experience of the group provided an excellent opportunity to brainstorm about the future of preservation education. This article will focus on the second facet.2

Preservation, as a distinct area of library and archival management, is still relatively new. Although the Library of Congress established a formal preservation program in the late 1960s, most American preservation departments were developed in the 1980s. For many libraries and archives, the current decade will see the advent of preservation administration. Similarly, preservation education is at an early stage of development. The University of Texas, with a revised version of the curriculum developed at Columbia University in the early 1980s, remains the country's only comprehensive degree program in library and archival preservation and conservation. More recently, the University of Pittsburgh has established a Certificate of Advanced Study program in preservation management, and many library schools have added regularly scheduled courses in preservation. However, preservation is far from universally accepted by library schools and even farther from inclusion in all MLS core curricula.

Today, there is a growing number of librarians and archivists who are able to pursue formal training in preservation while working on their professional degrees. However, most administrators completed the MLS before such programs were available. Traditionally, continuing education workshops have been a key source of training for those taking on preservation responsibilities in mid-career. Such workshops, offered through regional networks, library schools, and professional associations (e.g., ALA and SAA), have provided sound training in the fundamentals of preservation, such as organizing brittle books programs and writing disaster plans. In recent years, the field has seen increasingly specialized programs, such as seminars on special management issues or the preservation of nonbook formats, including electronic media.

The librarians, archivists, conservators, and library science faculty who attended the PI Institute represent a broad range of experience in preservation education. Each participant has come to the field through a different combination of the educational formats described above; many have had opportunities to teach preservation to colleagues and graduate students. How such a group responds to new education programs is worth noting. In this case, enrollment patterns reflected one of the greatest concerns for preservation professionals today: changing information technology. Preservation of Electronic Formats, one of the PI Institute courses, drew a particularly intense interest from the field. This course reached its maximum enrollment early and accumulated a significant waiting list. In addition, most participants in the other two courses voiced a concern about keeping up with the pace of technological change.

The PI Institute course on electronic formats was taught by Dr. Michael Spring, an assistant professor of information science at the University of Pittsburgh. Spring approached preservation from the perspective of technological development and information standards. Rather than attempting to make recommendations for specific management plans, Spring focused on the theoretical underpinnings of electronic media. With such a background, librarians and archivists will be better equipped to evaluate the role of electronic media in collections management.

As useful as this course was, many students suggested that future programs will need to complement theory with training in specific preservation practices. For example, as the technology becomes more cost-effective, instruction on setting up and maintaining archives of digitally reformatted material might be useful. Another subject to be explored more thoroughly is the relationship between media--electronic, printed, photographic, micrographic--and what options are available for moving between them.

Many people at the PI Institute noted that expertise in preservation is not necessarily accompanied by computer literacy. Some of the field's most accomplished leaders are only beginning to use networked information. Similarly, many ardent promoters of electronic media have given little thought to material longevity and obsolescence from the perspective of research collections. Ensuring that sufficient attention is paid to preservation issues as information technology evolves is a great challenge for preservation professionals.

This discussion of electronic media is also a discussion of the role of theory in preservation education. Students in the Science Serving Preservation course, taught by Dr. Jan Lyall, joined their peers from Preservation of Electronic Formats in struggling with theoretical material. Throughout the PI Institute many people craved a more hands-on approach. Yet, by the end of the week most seemed convinced that the theoretical foundation had strengthened their ability to make informed decisions about specific preservation programs. This experience points to a need for additional theoretical research and a greater role for theory in preservation education.

Another area of concern for participants in the PI Institute was the field's constant struggle for funding. Many people advocated teaching grant-writing skills in workshops and library school courses. Another suggestion called for regional grant distribution agencies that could assist smaller institutions in the grant application process. When asked who should be responsible for providing and financially supporting preservation education, participants suggested the gamut of government, cooperative, and academic institutions as well as private foundations. All of these suggestions were well founded; however, none was out of the ordinary. The group expressed concern about the need for new sources of funding.

The need for innovation in general was agreed upon. Preservation managers are challenged not only to find new sources of funding but also new formats for internship and on-the-job training. This point is particularly urgent as the Mellon Internship program draws to a close. To foster such innovation, participants called for more effective leadership among library directors to build support for preservation. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) was identified as an organization well placed to provide increased leadership among top administrators. With an organized effort, ARL could help raise preservation in the United States to the level of respect accorded to programs in Europe and Australia. Both Lyall, who is Australian, and Dr. Marianne Tidcombe, who lives in England and taught Bookbinding and the Arts and Crafts Movement for the PI Institute, commented that in their respective countries preservation administrators are considered relatively prestigious, while American counterparts are struggling for recognition from directors.

The first Preservation Intensive Institute successfully provided an opportunity for focused advanced level education in library and archival preservation. It was also an opportunity to look carefully at the state of preservation education. Participants came to many of the same conclusions heard at meetings of PLMS, ALISE, SAA, and programs organized by the Commission on Preservation and Access, as well as a host of regional meetings and workshops. Library schools must be encouraged to include preservation in core curricula. In addition to formal academic training, novice preservation managers need opportunities to work with experienced mentors in established programs. The pace of technological change is daunting but, all the same, demands attention from preservation educators and administrators.

The outcome of the first PI Institute underscores the need to continue with a creative spirit, looking for new ways of meeting the challenges of preservation education. Next summer at UCLA, the PI Institute will once again address topics of concern to mid-career preservation professionals. Once again we will have an opportunity to look at the state of the art and assess our education agenda.

Nota bene: This article is based on discussions with Sally Buchanan, Kirsten Jensen, and all of the participants, instructors, and coordinators for the first PI Institute. The following printed sources were also consulted:

Buchanan, Sally. "The Third Decade: Directions for Preservation/Conservation." Conservation Administration News 33 (April 1988): 3, 10.

Cloonan, Michele Valerie. "Preservation Education in American Library Schools: Recounting the Ways." Journal of Education for Library and Information Science. 31 (Winter 1991): 187-203.

Harris, Carolyn. "Education for Preservation Administration: the role of the conservation education program of Columbia University's School of Library Service." Conservation Administration News 42 (July 1990): 8-9.

Preservation Education Institute Final Report, by Deanna B. Marcum, Chair, Task Force on Preservation Education. Washington, DC: Commission on Preservation and Access, 1990.

1. Participating institutions for the Preservation Intensive Institute are: University of Pittsburgh, UCLA, University of Texas, University of North Carolina, and University of Wisconsin. The coordinators representing each school, respectively, are: Sally Buchanan, Michele Cloonan, Carolyn Harris, Jan Paris, and Andrea Rolich. The PI Institute is funded through an NEH grant and support from each host institution.

2. For information about the general proceedings of the first PI Institute please see the November issue of Library Hi Tech News, or contact Andrew Hart at 412/624-9447 by telephone or by email.

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