The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 1

IFLA Highlights
1997 Conference, Copenhagen
Part II: Permanent Paper & National Libraries

by Jean Whiffin

The first part of this report ran in the last issue, vol. 21 #8. It covered IFLA's consideration of electronic records.

Jean Whiffin would be pleased to answer any questions from Abbey Newsletter readers about the work of the IFLA Section on Preservation and Conservation. Her e-mail address is: <>. Please note that the address starts with a lowercase L, not a one.

Progress in Encouraging Global Use of Permanent Paper

As part of its Action Plan for l998-1999, the Standing Committee will continue to promote the use of permanent paper by updating, distributing and translating the Section's Permanent Paper Brochure (Preserving our Documentary Heritage: The Case for Permanent Paper--see review in Abbey Newsletter, v. 20, no. 8, December 31, 1996, p. 124), and by holding an Open Session on this topic during the Amsterdam 1998 Conference. Committee member Rolf Dahlø (Norway) and Chair of the TC46/ SC10 (Information and Documentation/Physical Keeping of Documents) group of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) will coordinate the program arrangements.

For two years the Committee has played an active role in the development and promotion of a UNESCO resolution on permanent paper to encourage worldwide action. The draft resolution stressing the benefits, submitted by the Government of Canada as a member state, was approved at the November 1997 General Conference, and became UNESCO's official policy. The resolution recommends that "the member states of UNESCO, by legislation, regulation, encouragement and example, promote the use and identification of permanent paper in their respective territories for publications and documents to be retained for historical or information purposes," and invites the Director General to ensure that UNESCO documents are printed on permanent paper, and to arrange for the collection of data on the extent to which it is being used worldwide.

Role of National Libraries

The Open Session of the Section on Preservation and Conservation was devoted to the theme "Policies of National Libraries for the Preservation of the Library Heritage of a Nation: Nationwide Preservation Policies and Programmes" with papers from the U.K., France, Australia and Russia.

Mirjam Foot (British Library) sees a national preservation strategy as the basis for co-operation and co-ordination on a national and international scale, which is "the only way" to address the enormous preservation problems faced by libraries and archives all over the world. Three recent surveys show the desirability and need for a coherent national preservation strategy, but very few nations have one, and therefore an international strategy is a very long way off. Canada has published such a national policy, but it has not been implemented, and the U.S. National Preservation Office is defunct.

Preservation needs have to be established and assessed against collection strategies and retention intentions. Policies of individual libraries and archives have to be compared and dovetailed into a coherent national program. Local interests and short-term expediency will have to be subjected to long-term goals in the national interest (and a certain amount of possessiveness and protectionism on the part of libraries themselves is an inevitable inhibitor). The prognosis for a formulation of a British national strategy may be difficult and slow, but it is certainly not hopeless, as the will is there and the co-ordinating mechanism of a National Preservation Office is in place.

Marie-Lise Tsagouria (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) acknowledged the BNF has a tough enough task without having to bother too much about collections in other French libraries, but it plays a central role in the promotion and development of preservation activities in France and recognizes the necessity of sharing its resources and expertise. One of the most interesting parts of this presentation was the description of research for new processes and materials, including work with the Separex Corporation towards a new deacidification unit, binding specifications for heavy-use, free-access documents, and an ergonomic dust recovery unit.

Jan Lyall (National Library of Australia), in an outstanding paper entitled "National Preservation Programmes: 'such stuff as dreams are made on'," examined the question "What exactly is a national preservation programme?" She looked at the proposals put forward in 1976 in the U.S.A. (the first country to express the desire to establish a national preservation programme), and suggested why some of the recommendations were not implemented while others were. The grand scheme proposed by Gordon Williams involved establishing a few storage facilities across the country which would be maintained at low temperatures and would house the national collection. All material would be deacidified and user requests would be met by photocopies, until the whole collection could be treated or converted to another format. She postulates the reasons why the total plan was never seriously considered:

"To have been implemented, it would have required many libraries to have 'given up' their collections for the good of the nation, a considerable and perhaps impossible effort would have been required to develop a national bibliographic database, and someone or some organisation would have been required to manage the system. It seems more than likely that the main reason the proposal lacked support was that no library was prepared to relocate all or parts of its collection."

Although many of the elements identified in 1976 have been implemented, the Library of Congress has not played its anticipated central role, as many other players (e.g., the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Research Libraries Group) have entered the scene, focused on certain elements, and developed practical strategies for dealing with them.

The leadership which Australia has shown since 1988 in establishing a National Preservation Office (NPO) with an emphasis on the need for co-operation at national and international levels (and including recognition of the issue of electronic media and the urgency for strategies to deal with its preservation) was clearly apparent in Jan Lyall's paper. A brief description of the approach adopted in Australia, with practical suggestions for developing national programs and policies, was provided. The NPO was set up in a largely print-based environment, but it is now part of the National Initiatives and Collaboration [NIAC] Branch, where its expertise will greatly assist in NIAC's top priority--the development of a national strategy for the preservation of all forms of digital information.

In closing, Jan Lyall drew attention to some of the new players in the field of information provision, such as the OhioLINK system, which may become the digital archives of the future, and another new digital repository, JSTOR, with its back files of core journals in some 10-15 fields. "Such organisations and consortia threaten the existence of national libraries. National libraries will have to develop new strategies to maintain their role as repositories of a nation's documentary heritage in the digital age."

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