Conservation Documentation in Research Libraries: Making the Link with MARC Data

Article excerpt

Conservation professionals are ethically bound to produce and preserve conservation documentation. The research described in this paper investigates conservation documentation methods and practice in academic research libraries. The author conducted a literature review and developed and implemented a survey to both record current conservation documentation practices and to assess the potential use of the MARC 21 field 583 (Action Note) for recording, accessing, and preserving conservation documentation. Bound materials, in particular special collection materials, are the primary focus of the survey. The survey and follow-up interview responses support integrating conservation documentation into the MARC 21 field 583. Methods of doing so are presented and discussed.

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Conservation documentation preserves data of enduring value to library activities in addition to the fundamental roles of conservation and preservation. This concomitant value extends beyond safeguarding physical materials and facilitating access to supporting the understanding and interpretation of cultural materials. Too often, methods and systems of recording and managing conservation documentation can isolate and restrict access. Paper files, local databases, or locally managed electronic documents and image files hinder access because such systems require mediation. The present research examines the problem of access to conservation documentation in research libraries and the potential for utilizing the MARC record to facilitate wider access.

Data recorded in conservation documentation informs decisions about storage, use (including exhibition), and future conservation actions. The creation and management of conservation documentation are mandated in professional ethical codes and guidelines for practice defined by regional conservation professional organizations. (1) With the widespread acceptance and use of digital formats for recording conservation documentation, the ability to link this data with other collection data is now possible. Unfortunately, too often the management tools currently in use isolate the data from those stakeholders outside of the conservation and preservation specialties. When electing to use local data management tools such as paper records, stand-alone databases, or external hard drives for image files, conservators assume sole responsibility for managing, preserving, and providing access to the data--a complex and long-term responsibility.

Special collections units are under increased pressure to meet demands for

access to materials from on-site and remote users. Exhibition programs and digitization efforts for primary resources are increasing, as is use by undergraduate students. A 2010 OCLC report emphasized the need for research libraries to develop policies that further facilitate access and interlibrary loan of rare and unique materials. (2) Readily accessible conservation documentation could streamline access requests by providing the current data on physical condition needed to determine suitability for exhibition or loan.

While data pertaining to such preservation actions as preservation reformatting a digital video file is always recorded and preserved in the object's metadata, conservation documentation cannot be easily integrated within an object or its housing. This is especially problematic with rare books that, unlike many archival collections, do not have independent housing that can accommodate written or printed reports. By integrating conservation data into the bibliographic description, the full value of the information can be realized through nonmediated access. For book collections, in particular rare book collections, integrating conservation documentation into existing bibliographic records would permit all the primary stakeholders (conservators, rare book librarians, and the administrators of preservation and special collection departments) unmediated access to this important data. …