Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

More Than Ten Years After: Identity and Direction in Library Preservation

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

More Than Ten Years After: Identity and Direction in Library Preservation

Article excerpt

More Than Ten Years After: Identity and Direction in Library Preservation

The literature of preservation for 1990 is reviewed. Topics addressed include preservation in original format; conservation treatment; pest management; deterioration of paper, deacidification, and paper strengthening; preservation replacement; newer reformatting technologies; management of preservation programs; education for preservation professionals; library binding; and state, national, and international programs. This year's output reflects a profession where fundamental operating assumptions are not yet agreed upon and basic research is not complete.

A survey of over sixty-five articles and news items in English published during 1990 concerning the preservation of library collections reveals that technical and managerial concerns have not changed dramatically in the recent past. This fact reflects the continuing importance of certain problems that remain unsolved and the relative youth of preservation and preservation professionals in libraries. A large proportion of the preservation programs and professionals is in the start-up phase of program development and self-education, with insufficient experience (or time) to discuss managerial concerns or preservation philosophy in the professional literature. In fact, some of the frequent authors in preservation have primary assignments in other areas of library work, such as collection development and library administration, and have never administered or worked in preservation programs.

Reading the published output of 1990 in preservation could lead the novice to suspect that the field of preservation is suffering from a lack of shared understanding of its goals. Part of the field, one might conclude, manages programs that, slowly and at great expense, maintain physical collections of books, archives, and documents that support current faculty scholarship and curricula. The other, unrelated, part oversees the replacement of hundreds of thousands of about-to-disappear brittle volumes that are rarely consulted except by devotees of the arcane and antique.

The divergence of the two views is especially pronounced in their approaches toward prioritization of items for preservation. Those describing physical treatment programs (especially Ogden, Shenton, and Maver) justify the allocation of their resources (human and fiscal) toward items urgently in need of care, deferring the maintenance of materials at less risk with confidence that, if not much used, these items will endure until treatment can be provided. Authors employing this approach to large-scale problems assume the opportunity will remain to raise the treatment priority for items whose condition worsens or level of use increases.

Articles documenting preservation replacement programs (especially Atkinson and Hazen), on the contrary, base their arguments on the assumption that acidic papers are uniformly doomed to imminent extinction and that any items not replaced or reformatted within a few years will be lost to society. Accepting the sure loss of thousands of titles, these writers either develop strategies for selecting materials for preservation based on various criteria of research value that reflect (and can only reflect) current research interests or eschew selection entirely and attempt comprehensiveness within subject areas. Either way the opportunity for preservation is expressed as a now-or-never proposition.

Several major pieces of work were published in 1990, including Merrill-Oldham and Parisi, and Higginbotham, that have gotten substantial, and well-deserved, attention. Other important work, including research by Daniel, Flieder, and Leclerc, and by Hindhaugh, has received little attention, despite its relevance to policy questions under consideration. An overview of this year's work reveals substantial effort being devoted to preservation problems, but apparently little communication. …

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