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Preservation refers to the set of activities that aims to prolong the life of a record and relevant metadata, or enhance its value, or improve access to it through non-interventive means. This includes actions taken to influence records creators prior to selection and acquisition.
It should be distinguished from conservation-restoration of cultural heritage, which refers to the treatment and repair of individual items to slow decay or restore them to a usable state. Conservation is occasionally used interchangeably with preservation, particularly outside the professional literature.
Preservation as a formal profession in libraries and archives dates from the twentieth century, but its philosophy and practice has roots in many earlier traditions.
In many ancient societies, appeals to heavenly protectors were used to preserve books, scrolls and manuscripts from insects, fire and decay.
Human record-keeping arguably dates back to the cave painting boom of the upper paleolithic, some 32,000-40,000 years ago. More direct antecedents are the writing systems that developed in the 4th millennium B.C. Written record keeping and information sharing practices, along with oral tradition, sustain and transmit information from one group to another. This level of preservation has been supplemented over the last century with the professional practice of preservation and conservation in the cultural heritage community.
The Paul Banks and Carolyn Harris Preservation Award for outstanding preservation specialists in library and archival science, is given annually by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, a subdivision of the American Library Association. It is awarded in recognition of professional preservation specialists who have made significant contributions to the field. Banks/Harris award winners:
Environmental controls are necessary to facilitate the preservation of organic materials and are especially important to monitor in rare and special collections. Key environmental factors to watch include temperature, relative humidity, pests, pollutants, and light exposure.
In general, the lower the temperature is, the better it is for the collection. However, since books and other materials are often housed in areas with people, a compromise must be struck to accommodate human comfort. A reasonable temperature to accomplish both goals is 65-68?F however, if possible, film and photography collections should be kept in a segregated area at 55?F.
Books and other materials take up and give off moisture making them sensitive to relative humidity. Very high humidity encourages mold growth and insect infestations. Low humidity causes materials to lose their flexibility. Fluctuations in relative humidity are more damaging than a constant humidity in the middle or low range. Generally, the relative humidity should be between 30-50% with as little variation as possible, however recommendations on specific levels to maintain vary depending on the type of material, i.e. paper-based, film, etc. A specialized dew point calculator for book preservation is available.
Pests, such as insects and vermin, eat and destroy paper and the adhesive that secures book bindings. Food and drink in libraries, archives, and museums can increase the attraction of pests. An Integrated Pest Management system is one way to control pests in libraries.
Particulate and gaseous pollutants, such as soot, ozone, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, can cause dust, soiling, and irreversible molecular damage to materials. Pollutants are exceedingly small and not easily detectable or removable. A special filtration system in the building's HVAC is a helpful defense.
Exposure to light also has a significant effect on materials. It is not only the light visible to humans that can cause damage, but also ultraviolet light and infrared radiation. Measured in lux or the amount of lumens/m2, the generally accepted level of illumination with sensitive materials is limited to 50 lux per day. Materials receiving more lux than recommended can be placed in dark storage periodically to prolong the original appearance of the object.
Recent concerns about the impact of climate change on the management of cultural heritage objects as well as the historic environment has prompted research efforts to investigate alternative climate control methods and strategies that include the implementation of alternative climate control systems to replace or supplement traditional high-energy consuming HVAC systems as well as the introduction of passive preservation techniques. Rather than maintaining a flat line, consistent 24/7 condition for a collection's environment, fluctuation can occur within acceptable limits to create a preservation environment while also thinking of energy efficiency and taking advantage of the outside environment.
Bound materials are sensitive to rapid temperature or humidity cycling due to differential expansion of the binding and pages, which may cause the binding to crack and/or the pages to warp. Changes in temperature and humidity should be done slowly so as to minimize the difference in expansion rates. However, an accelerated aging study on the effects of fluctuating temperature and humidity on paper color and strength showed no evidence that cycling of one temperature to another or one RH to another caused a different mechanism of decay.
Making a proper decision is an important factor before starting preservation practices. Decision making for preservation should be made considering significance and value of materials. Significance is considered to have two major components: importance and quality. "Importance" relates to the collection's role as a record, and "quality" covers comprehensiveness, depth, uniqueness, authenticity and reputation of the collection. Moreover, analyzing the significance of materials can be used to uncover more about their meaning. Assessment of significance can also aid in documenting the provenance and context to argue the case for grant funding for the object and collection.
Forms of significance can be historically, culturally, socially, or spiritually significant. In the preservation context, libraries and archives make decisions in different ways. In libraries, decision-making likely targets existing holding materials, whereas in archives, decisions for preservation are often made when they acquire materials. Therefore, different criteria might be needed on different occasions. In general, for archive criteria, the points include: 1) the characteristics of a record (purpose, creator, etc.); 2) the quality of the information in the record; 3) the record in context (part of a series or not); 4) potential use and possible limitations; and 5) the cost against the benefits from its existence. For archival criteria, the following are evidence of significance: 1) uniqueness, 2) irreplaceability, 3) high level of impact - over time or place, 4) high level of influence, 5) representation of a type, and 6) comparative value (rarity, completeness, integrity relative to others of its kind).
Since the 1970s, the Northeast Document Conservation Center has stated that the study of understanding the needs of the archive/library is inherently important to the survival of archives and libraries. In order for the preservation of a collection to survive for a long time it is important that a systematic preservation plan is in place. The first step in planning a preservation program is to assess the institution's existing preservation needs. This process entails identifying the general and specific needs of the collection, establishing priorities, and gathering the resources to execute the plan.
Because budget and time limitations require priorities to be set, standards have been established by the profession to determine what should be preserved in a collection. Considerations include existing condition, rarity, and evidentiary and market values. With non-paper formats, the availability of equipment to access the information will be a factor (for example, playback equipment for audio-visual materials, or microform readers). An institution should determine how many, if any, other repositories hold the material, and consider coordinating efforts with those that do.
Institutions should establish an environment conducive to preservation changes, involve staff, and create an understanding among administration and staff. The first steps an institution should implement, according to the NEDCC, are to establish a policy that defines and charts the course of action and create a framework for carrying out goals and priorities.
There are three methods for carrying out a preservation survey: general preservation assessment, collection condition surveys, and an item-by-item survey. General condition surveys can be part of a library inventory.
Selection for treatment determines the survival of materials and should be done by a specialist, whether in relation to an established collection development policy or on an item by item basis. Once an object or collection has been chosen for preservation, the treatment must be determined that is most appropriate to the material and its repository. If the information is most important, reformatting or creation of a surrogate is a likely option. If the artifact itself is of value, it will receive conservation treatment, ideally of a reversible nature.
With old media deteriorating or showing their vulnerabilities and new media becoming available, research remains active in the field of conservation and preservation. Everything from how to preserve paper media to creating and maintaining electronic resources and gauging their digital permanence is being explored by students and professionals in archives/libraries. The two main issues that most institutions tend to face are the rapid disintegration of acidic paper and water damage (due to flooding, plumbing problems, etc.). Therefore, these areas of preservation, as well as new digital technologies, receive much of the research attention.
The American Library Association has many scholarly journals that publish articles on preservation topics, such as College and Research Libraries, Information Technology and Libraries, and Library Resources and Technical Services. Scholarly periodicals in this field from other publishers include International Preservation News, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, and Collection Management among many others.
Conservators should refer to the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, which states that the conservation professional must "strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects of conservation."
Ethics will play an important role in many aspects of the conservator's activities. When choosing which objects are in need of treatment, the conservator should do what is best for the object in question and not yield to pressure or opinion from outside sources.
One instance in which these decisions may get tricky is when the conservator is dealing with cultural objects. The AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice has addressed such concerns, stating "All actions of the conservation professional must be governed by an informed respect for cultural property, its unique character and significance and the people or person who created it." This can be applied in both the care and longterm storage of objects in archives and institutions.
The AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice also states: "While recognizing the right of society to make appropriate and respectful use of cultural property, the conservation professional shall serve as an advocate for the preservation of cultural property." This statement speaks to the conservator's need to balance his or her duty to conserve objects and maintain a collection with society's right to have access and use of objects for their own cultural/religious purposes. While it is obvious that a member of a religion should be able to have access to an object or text that has spiritual value to them, it would be against the conservator's ethics to then allow that object to incur damage from such use. The conservator should make sure that the care of the object is kept in mind when access to an object is granted. The object should remain in the best condition possible not only so it is preserved for prosperity, but also so that it can be studied by researchers and by members of the cultural or religious group that created it.
It is important that preservation specialists to be respectful of cultural property and the societies that created it, it is also important for them to be aware of international and national laws pertaining to stolen items. The AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice also states that:
"The conservation professional should be cognizant of laws and regulations that may have a bearing on professional activity. Among these laws and regulations are those concerning the rights of artists and their estates, occupational health and safety, sacred and religious material, excavated objects, endangered species, human remains, and stolen property."
In recent years there has been a rise in nations seeking out artifacts that have been stolen and are now in museums. In many cases museums are working with the nations to find a compromise to balance the need for reliable supervision as well as access for both the public and researchers.
Conservators are not just bound by ethics to treat cultural and religious objects with respect, but also in some cases by law. For example, in the United States, conservators must comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The First Archivists Circle, a group of Native American archivists, has also created Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. The non-binding guidelines are suggestions for libraries and archives with Native American archival materials.
With all these issues of respect and cultural sensitivity to consider, conservation and preservation issues are sure to arise. The care of cultural and sacred objects often affects the physical storage or the object. For example, sacred objects of the native peoples of the Western United States are supposed to be stored with sage to ensure their spiritual well being. The idea of storing an object with plant material is inherently problematic to an archival collection because of the possibility of insect infestation. When conservators have faced this problem, they have addressed it by using freeze-dried sage, thereby meeting both conservation and cultural needs.
Some individuals in the archival community have explored the possible moral responsibility to preserve all cultural phenomena, in regards to the concept of monumental preservation. Other advocates argue that such an undertaking is something that the indigenous or native communities that produce such cultural objects are better suited to perform. Currently, however, many indigenous communities are not financially able to support their own archives and museums. Still, indigenous archives are on the rise in the United States.
In her book "Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship", Nancy Kalikow Maxwell discusses how libraries are capable of performing some of the same functions as religion. Many librarians feel that their work is done for some higher purpose. The same can be said for preservation librarians. One instance of the library's role as sacred is to provide a sense of immortality: with the ever-changing world outside, the library will remain stable and dependable. Preservation is a great help in this regard. Through digitization and reformatting, preservation librarians are able to retain material while at the same time adapting to new methods. In this way, libraries can adapt to the changes in user needs without changing the quality of the material itself. Through preservation efforts, patrons can rest assured that although materials are constantly deteriorating over time, the library itself will remain a stable, reliable environment for their information needs. Another sacred ability of the library is to provide information and a connection to the past. By working to slow down the processes of deterioration and decay of library materials, preservation practices help keep this link to the past alive.
Many private entities provide preservation and conservation services and supplies.
A relatively new concept, digitization, has been hailed as a way to preserve historical items for future use. "Digitizing refers to the process of converting analog materials into digital form."
For manuscripts, digitization is achieved through scanning an item and saving it to a digital format. For example, the Google Book Search program has partnered with over forty libraries around the world to digitize books. The goal of this library partnership project is to "make it easier for people to find relevant books - specifically, books they wouldn't find any other way such as those that are out of print - while carefully respecting authors' and publishers' copyrights."
Although digitization seems to be a promising area for future preservation, there are also problems. The main problems are that digital space costs money, formats change, and backwards compatibility is not guaranteed. Higher-quality images take a longer time to scan, but are often more valuable for future use. Fragile items are often more difficult or more expensive to scan, which creates a selection problem for preservationists. Other problems include scan quality, redundancy of digitized books among different libraries, and copyright law.
However, many of these problems are being solved through educational initiatives. Educational programs are tailoring themselves to fit preservation needs and help new students understand preservation practices. Programs teaching graduate students about digital librarianship are especially important.
Groups such as the Digital Preservation Network strive to ensure that "the complete scholarly record is preserved for future generations". The Library of Congress maintains a Sustainability of Digital Formats web site that educates institutions on various aspects of preservation: most notably, on approximately 200 digital format types and which are most likely to last into the future.
With technology constantly improving, digitization is a preservation choice that may help items last well into the future.
One of the biggest challenges in the field of preservation today is educating a library's community, especially librarians and other staff, in the best ways to handle materials as well as the conditions in which particular materials will decay the least. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that preservation is a peripheral element of most library science curricula; indeed, there are few places where one can receive a specialized education in preservation.
One of the primary degree granting institutions for library and archival preservation is the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information. There are a number of other preservation administration programs in the United States including the University of Michigan School of Information which specializes in digital preservation management. Recently the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has funded a number of digital curation education programs around the United States, including at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Digital curation includes the activity of digital preservation management.
Other conservation programs in the United States focus on Art Conservation and are considered to be more museum focused than library focused. These programs are all part of the Association of North American Graduate Programs in the Conservation of Cultural Property (ANAGPIC).
Rutgers, The State School of New Jersey offers a 100% online Master's Degree in Information, with a concentration in archives and preservation. The Rutgers Preservation Management Institute provides post-graduate training in preservation administration for working librarians who have already completed a master's degree. UT Austin also offers certificates of advanced study in conservation and preservation to librarians who already hold their MLS.
Another educational resource available to preservationists is the Northeast Document Conservation Center or NEDCC. This institution was founded in 1973 as a reaction to the growing problem of paper deterioration occurring in repositories in the New England area. The Center provides institutions and organizations, as well as librarians, conservators, preservationists, and museum professionals, with help in learning proper care and procedures to better preserve the integrity of their collections. The institution provides a variety of services such as imaging, surveys and consultations, and digitization. They also assist with disaster planning. The educational opportunities it provides include provision of workshops, conferences, and specialized trainings. Additional online courses are also available. For instance, some of the workshops offered by the NEDCC include: Basic Preservation, Collections Care, Emergency Preparedness, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Identification and Care of Photographs, Basic and Intermediate Book Repair, Basic Paper Repair, Preservation of Scrapbooks, Preservation Technologies, Holdings Maintenance, Creating and Maintaining Digital Collections, Scanning Training, and Grant Writing. Additionally, the NEDCC is responsible for the creation of a Preservation Education Curriculum, which has been made available online to serve as an instructional aid for introductory preservation courses taught at Library and Information Science schools.
The Preservation, Planning and Publications Committee of the Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS) in the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services has created a Preservation Education Directory of ALA Accredited schools in the U.S. and Canada offering courses in preservation. The directory is updated approximately every three years. The 10th Edition was made available on the ALCTS web site in March 2015.
Additional preservation education is available to librarians through various professional organizations, such as:
Limited, tax-driven funding can often interfere with the ability for public libraries to engage in extensive preservation activities. Materials, particularly books, are often much easier to replace than to repair when damaged or worn. Public libraries usually try to tailor their services to meet the needs and desires of their local communities, which could cause an emphasis on acquiring new materials over preserving old ones. Librarians working in public facilities frequently have to make complicated decisions about how to best serve their patrons. Commonly, public library systems work with each other and sometimes with more academic libraries through interlibrary loan programs. By sharing resources, they are able to expand upon what might be available to their own patrons and share the burdens of preservation across a greater array of systems.
Archival facilities focus specifically on rare and fragile materials. With staff trained in appropriate techniques, archives are often available to many public and private library facilities as an alternative to destroying older materials. Items that are unique, such as photographs, or items that are out of print, can be preserved in archival facilities more easily than in many library settings.
Because so many museum holdings are unique, including print materials, art, and other objects, preservationists are often most active in this setting.
Reformatting, or in any other way copying an item's contents, raises obvious copyright issues. In many cases, a library is allowed to make a limited number of copies of an item for preservation purposes. In the United States, certain exceptions have been made for libraries and archives.
There is a longstanding tension between preservation of and access to library materials, particularly in the area of special collections. Handling materials promotes their progression to an unusable state, especially if they are handled carelessly. On the other hand, materials must be used in order to gain any benefit from them. In a collection with valuable materials, this conflict is often resolved by a number of measures which can include heightened security, requiring the use of gloves for photographs, restricting the materials researchers may bring with them into a reading room, and restricting use of materials to patrons who are not able to satisfy their research needs with less valuable copies of an item. These restrictions are annoyances to researchers who feel that these measures are in place solely to keep materials out of the hands of the public.
There is also controversy surrounding preservation methods. A major controversy at the end of the twentieth century centered on the practice of discarding items that had been microfilmed. This was the subject of novelist Nicholson Baker's book Double Fold, which chronicled his efforts to save many old runs of American newspapers (formerly owned by the British Library) from being sold to dealers or pulped. A similar concern persists over the retention of original documents reformatted by any means, analog or digital. Concerns include scholarly needs and legal requirements for authentic or original records as well as questions about the longevity, quality and completeness of reformatted materials. Retention of originals as a source or fail-safe copy is now a fairly common practice. Another controversy revolving around different preservation methods is that of digitization of original material to maintain the intellectual content of the material while ignoring the physical nature of the book. Further, the Modern Language Association's Committee on the Future of the Print Record structured its "Statement on the Significance of Primary Records" on the inherent theoretical ideology that there is a need to preserve as many copies of a printed edition as is possible as texts and their textual settings are, quite simply, not separable, just as the artifactual characteristics of texts are as relevant and varied as the texts themselves (in the report mentioned herewith, G. Thomas Tanselle suggests that presently existing book stacks need not be abandoned with emerging technologies; rather they serve as vitally important original (primary) sources for future study).
Many digitized items, such as back issues of periodicals, are provided by publishers and databases on a subscription basis. If these companies were to cease providing access to their digital information, facilities that elected to discard paper copies of these periodicals could face significant difficulties in providing access to these items. Discussion as to the best ways to utilize digital technologies is therefore ongoing, and the practice continues to evolve. Of course, the issues surrounding digital objects and their care in libraries and archives continues to expand as more and more of contemporary culture is created, stored, and used digitally. These born-digital materials raise their own new kinds of preservation challenges and in some cases they may even require use new kinds of tools and techniques.
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