The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 1
Mar 1996

An Expert Assessment of North American Preservation

The editorial office has received a copy of the ARL Preservation Planning Task Force Final Report (Association of Research Libraries, Washington, DC, April 1994). It is summarized here because it gives an unusually well-informed assessment of preservation in North America, with emphasis on the U.S.

The report is the outcome of a preservation planning conference held in May 1992, cosponsored by the University of Chicago Library and the ARL. So far it has not been published on paper, although it is available on the Internet. (Go to and open the folder named "Preservation," then open the folder named "Task force.") Because of the small audience of decision-makers for which it was intended, and the awkward length (about 6600 words), it has been hard for ARL to find an economical and appropriate publishing venue for the printed version. ARL is open to suggestion, however; send ideas to

Because the report has still not been printed and not everybody has access to the Internet, this summary is as full as space allows. Readers who are interested should still look at the original if they can, though, because much meaningful detail had to be omitted.

Participants at the 1992 Chicago conference included the directors, collection development librarians, and preservation librarians from ARL libraries with established preservation programs, and representatives of organizations involved in preservation. They identified issues to address, and recommended establishment of a task force to clarify the issues and develop strategies. Nine members were appointed to the task force:

Martin Runkle, University of Chicago, Chair, who was succeeded after the 1992 meeting by Robert L. Street, Stanford University
Ross Atkinson, Cornell University
Diane Kresh, Library of Congress
Patricia McClung, Research Libraries Group
Jan Merrill-Oldham, University of Connecticut
Carole Moore, University of Toronto and Canadian Liaison
Carolyn Morrow, Harvard University
Barclay Ogden, University of California-Berkeley
Eugene Wiemers, Northwestern University
and Jutta Reed-Scott, ARL staff, who worked with the Task Force.

Parts I and II of the report was written as a white paper for the Task Force, by Jutta Reed-Scott, Jan Merrill-Oldham, and Carolyn Morrow. It describes the goals and objectives of major organizations' preservation efforts, and identifies needs left unmet. Part III was drafted by the Task Force as a preservation action plan for consideration by the ARL Committee on Preservation of Research Library Materials.

The major organizations whose preservation programs are described are:

American Library Association
Association of Research Libraries
Commission on Preservation and Access
National Endowment for the Humanities
Research Libraries Group
Others that contribute to the national effort are the Library of Congress, American Institute for Conservation, Image Permanence Institute, National Media Lab and Getty Conservation Institute.

In Part II, outstanding needs are identified in eight areas of activity:

  1. Bibliographic access to preserved materials. Information is needed regarding preservation activity other than microfilming--e.g., for deacidification. The mechanism exists, but it not used. More information about serials holdings is needed in records for preservation microform masters.
  2. Environmental conditions and housing of collections. Needs here are for funding, and research on the effects of temperature and humidity on the life expectancy of materials.
  3. Coordinating selection for preservation. Selection of materials for microfilming projects has been mostly on the basis of subject. Many professionals, however, support the principle of selection on the basis of use, condition and value. Five needs are identified: Selection for preservation at the point of acquisition, which will require cooperation between bibliographers, collection managers and preservation administrators; good ways to identify brittle materials for reformatting; better coordination among libraries in selection, so as to provide comprehensive coverage of subject areas; better coordination between large and small research libraries; and better use of Conspectus On-line's scope notes about completed and ongoing preservation projects that are completed or under way--or construction of a similar database that could aid in selection.
  4. Education and training of preservation personnel. Preservation topics need to be incorporated in core programs in library schools and continuing education programs; educational opportunities are needed to ensure a pool of highly skilled preservation professionals; non-preservation staff need to know about preservation issues, technologies and processes; and more trained collections conservators are needed.
  5. Technical quality of information media and preservation treatments. Condition surveys and audit procedures are needed to ensure long-term access to microfilm master negatives and digital records; and mass deacidification procedures should continue to be assessed as they evolve.
  6. Standards development. Manufacturing and environmental storage guidelines are needed for a variety of media; and the results of various preservation treatments, including mass deacidification, need to be assessed.
  7. Research and the application of technologies. Many of the decisions being made today are based more on experience and intuition than on the results of focused scientific experimentation. Research projects should reflect agreed-upon priorities for the North American preservation effort. These priorities must be set. Results of the research must be communicated in a meaningful way to the preservation community and should be translated into usable technologies wherever possible.
  8. Information needs for effective preservation management. Examples of management information that has been found useful are the annual ARL Preservation Statistics, results of condition surveys, and Patricia McClung's 1986 article on the costs associated with preservation microfilming. Modeling in the broadest sense is suggested, for example to discover the full costs of access to different types of media. Cost models providing comparative economic data could support more systematic decision-making [such as Steven Puglia's 1995 cost-benefit analysis for copying or storing of acetate film, published in this newsletter last September].

ARL's action plan (in Part III) has two parts: continuation of ongoing activities, and new initiatives. Six of ARL's ongoing activities are endorsed:

Support and advance North America preservation efforts. This involves coordinating activities with comparable organizations such as RLG; funding agencies; institutions such as libraries, archives, museums; and industry.

  1. Support member libraries' preservation programs by assisting with needs assessment and long-range planning. This includes advocacy, publication, and development of educational and training programs.
  2. Assist in assessing the scope of preservation activity in ARL libraries (e.g., the Preservation Statistics Survey).
  3. Promote education and training for preservation managers, technical specialists and generalists. Provide management information for preservation administrators; develop training programs for them, especially in electronic technologies as a preservation strategy; and integrate more preservation information into library school curricula.
  4. Support effective bibliographic control of preservation-related records. Complete retrospective conversion of the National Register of Microform Masters master file; examine issues related to bibliographic control of digitized files.
  5. Monitor technological developments, keeping members informed and recommending action where appropriate.

Five initiatives were recommended for ARL and its membership to consider:

  1. Establish a national coordinated serials preservation project. Long runs of serials have become brittle, or rare, or both, but there are obstacles to filming them. Not only are holdings typically incomplete, but there is often no information on which parts of a run are actually missing. This makes interlibrary loan awkward, because there is often no way to tell which library is able to send the missing parts. A three-phase pilot project in a core discipline important to ARL libraries and users is outlined.
  2. Review the ARL preservation effort to date, and identify new targets and selection methods. The large-scale microfilm project of the last ten years has preserved a large number of paper-based materials, but vast quantities remain at risk. The problem of identifying them has become increasingly difficult and expensive. There is no way to tell which subject areas have been covered more, or less, comprehensively than the others. The subject approach to selection for preservation will become less and less productive. Alternative bases for selection are suggested, preferably selection by use. An updated and reactivated Conspectus could serve as a national preservation database; this was one of the original purposes of the Conspectus. Working groups on database development and on selection are recommended.
  3. Develop cost models for preservation decision making. This would enable the preservation administrator to compare the cost effectiveness of various strategies for preserving collections with different condition, use and value.
  4. Identify and support new preservation-related standards. These are needed for the use of digital technologies for preservation purposes, optimal environments for long-term storage of library materials, library binding processes and maerials, and methods for conserving artifacts. Where no standards exist, means of achieving consensus should be developed, and ARL libraries should be represented in groups that identify standards for development.
  5. Commend the work of the Commission on Preservation and Access Science Research Council. This should be done formally through a letter from ARL leadership, and reported widely in the library literature.

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