Use of General Preservation Assessments: Process

Article excerpt

This paper describes the typology of general preservation assessments and investigates what is being accomplished based on recommendations identified in the process. The author characterizes the assessment based on tabulated data. A range of institutional types and sizes are represented. The investment of staff time and the role of the consultant are examined. The most frequent goal of respondents was to develop a preservation plan. Interest in repair and reformatting was significantly less than interest in preventive activities. The findings of this study suggest that assessment reports are thorough and organized; report content is consistent across the population studied. The study informs future assessments by defining current practice through the collection of concrete data on specific representative measures.


Over the past quarter century, general preservation assessments have assisted organizations to understand factors that affect the long-term care of their collection. By evaluating policy, practice, facilities, and collections, preservation needs are determined and prioritized, and resources for implementation identified. (1) The fundamental goal of the general assessment is to provide a fully inclusive review of current circumstances and projected risk, and, by doing so, assist a collecting institution in developing a preservation plan. (2) The findings can help to reallocate existing resources, secure additional funding, raise awareness, and even define the extent of the preservation problem on a national scale. If the study method is reliable and institutional efforts at implementation are continuous, the outcome is a comprehensive preservation program that efficiently and effectively addresses risk in all areas of operation.

Since the late 1970s, authors, including Cunha, founder of the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), have emphasized the study and understanding of preservation needs for libraries, museums, and archives. (3) Tools and texts have been developed that together provide a reasonable paradigm to help ensure that a general assessment of preservation needs is complete and that the findings are practicable. (4) However, most methods emphasize the survey process itself; little research has been conducted to identify actual outcomes associated with these assessments. Further, neither funding agents nor cultural institutions are collecting concrete data that accurately reflect the extent to which the goals of preservation programs are being achieved.

Uncoordinated, unplanned preservation activities can result in some areas of need being overlooked. Sporadic efforts to protect collections may demonstrate an interest in preservation, yet without a strategy, resources likely will not be well-allocated, and long-term goals will not be achieved. The purpose of this study is twofold: to define current practice and to examine the use of general preservation assessments to determine what is being accomplished based on recommendations provided in the process. Based on data collected from 125 institutions in the United States, this research attempts to gauge the output of general assessments and the extent of preservation programs by examining the implementation of recommended actions.

This research seeks to answer the following questions:

* What types of institutions are conducting general preservation needs assessments?

* How much staff time is needed for the assessment and what are the major goals?

* What topics of concern are being considered?

* What is the content and structure of the report of findings?

This paper characterizes the assessment process and appraises key elements (topical coverage, phases of the study, report contents, and so on), providing a baseline for how the North American model of a general assessment is defined and undertaken. The data's value is to inform future assessments through the collection of concrete data on specific representative measures. …