Phased Preservation: A Philosophical Concept and Practical Approach to Preservation

By Waters, Peter | Special Libraries, Winter 1990 | Go to article overview

Phased Preservation: A Philosophical Concept and Practical Approach to Preservation


Waters, Peter, Special Libraries


Phased Preservation

A Philosophical Concept and Practical Approach to Preservation

* In February 1988, the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences Library in Leningrad suffered the biggest single library disaster in this century; some 3.6 million books were seriously damaged and 400,000 newspapers and scientific periodicals destroyed. In the succeeding months, the Library of Congress undertook the role of primary coordinator for Western assistance in its recovery efforts, and consultant teams of LC specialists visited Leningrad to determine collection replacement needs and develop plans with their USSR counterparts for the conservation of damaged materials. This article describes the LC approach and results.

Introduction

On August 25, 1988, Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, announced receipt of a $135,000 grant from Readers Digest Company to launch the Library's efforts to implement the far-reaching recovery plans described in two joint protocols issued earlier by the two libraries in Washington, DC and Leningrad. This grant is financing equipment, archival supplies, and technical consultation to begin a program which is expected to return many of the 200,000 rare and valuable foreign language books to selective reader use within a three to five-year period. The program embodies an approach known as "phased conservation." First conceived in response to urgent planning needs at the Library of Congress in 1973, phased conservation is now practiced in many American libraries; because it bears on so many interlocking problems, a review of its history and principles on the occasion of its first major use in Europe is appropriate.

History

In the last decade or so, significant technological advances have revolutionized the manner in which library and archive holdings are stored, used, and preserved. The large numbers and high maintenance cost of general collection materials in original format not considered to be rare often makes necessary the application of new methods of permanent format transfer to save space and avoid conservation costs. Methods of mass deacidification and strengthening, video and digital technologies, and other developments seem destined to play a significant future role in the search for lasting ways to preserve general collection content.

In preservation of rare and intrinsically valuable material requiring retention in original format, the newer technologies are less relevant, being used at present chiefly for making alternative service copies to reduce physical wear on originals and widen access to the reader.

Searching for solutions to the varied preservation problems of rare collections such as those in the Library of Congress required a multifaceted approach. For example, the Conservation Office is responsible for necessary treatment of extraordinary collections of manuscripts, rare books, prints, drawings, photographs and related graphic arts images, maps, atlases and globes, and unusual miscellaneous objects. These ever-expanding collections are characterized by varying degrees of deterioration and vulnerability and by widely differing levels of use. Consideration of the total resources needed--in individual staff-years of work and dollars--to conserve such collections by conventional, one-in-one treatment tends to so paralyze an administrator's thought process that few, if any, alternatives to individualized treatment are conceived.

If, however, one can discard the concept of full treatment as the obvious choice for all rare material, estimates based on staffing in relation to workload projections can stimulate a new look at collection needs and bring into play significant psychological and philosophical values. At LC, an alternative approach named phased conservation has grown in active use over a period of about 15 years. Adopting the approach is like looking at familiar over-whelming library conservation problems through the opposite end of a telescope; the change in point of view releases energy for innovative decisions.

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