Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Identifying Standard Practices in Research Library Book Conservation

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Identifying Standard Practices in Research Library Book Conservation

Article excerpt

The field of research library conservation has emerged as a distinct discipline and undergone major refinements during the past fifty years. Professional organizations and training programs have been established, new treatment techniques have been developed and promoted, and increasingly, special and general collections practitioners have collaborated on treatment solutions. Despite such dramatic growth and definition within the field, no comprehensive assessment of the book treatment practices employed by research libraries for special and general collections has been conducted. In response to this need, the authors undertook a study to investigate and document the types of treatments employed by research libraries to conserve and maintain their book collections, and to compare the practices used for special collections with those used for general collections. This paper describes the evolution of the field over the past fifty years and identifies book conservation techniques the study found to be routinely, moderately, or rarely employed in research libraries. A comparison of special and general collections treatment practices suggests that while notable differences exist, many treatment practices are common in both contexts. Implications of the study's results and potential applications for this new information are stated.

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The field of research library conservation emerged and has evolved significantly during the past fifty years. Professional organizations and training programs have been established; new treatment techniques have been developed and promoted through conferences, workshops, and publications; and increasingly, special and general collections practitioners have collaborated on treatment solutions. Despite the significant challenges faced by research libraries in the twenty-first century as substantial resources are allocated to electronic information discovery and delivery opportunities, research libraries continue to collect print collections. For example, within the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the median number of monographs purchased per year by ARL member libraries rose slightly over the period 1987-2007. (1) Furthermore, the recent ARL report, "Safeguarding Collections at the Dawn of the 21st Century," which describes how libraries are confronting the challenges of preserving collections in the digital age, affirms the ongoing importance of local conservation treatment, suggesting that the concerted effort to promote and enhance access to "hidden" collections "will lead to increased need for stabilizing artifacts (particularly preceding digitization), repairs, exhibit preparation, and complex conservation treatments in preparation for, or in response to, increased use." (2)

Despite the continuing need for conservation and the dramatic growth and definition within the field, there has been no comprehensive assessment of conservation treatment practices employed by research libraries to determine how the increasing professionalization may be affecting practice. Therefore the authors undertook this study to document the types of treatments employed by research libraries to conserve their book collections and to compare practices applied to special collections with those applied to general collections. This paper reports findings from a survey that collected information about the organizational responsibilities and educational background of conservation practitioners and their use of specific book conservation treatment procedures in both special and general collections contexts.

The results of this study can inform analyses of the extent to which practices are becoming standardized, the use of specific procedures in special versus general collections contexts, and how changing practices (both organizational and procedural) are providing benefits to libraries such as more effective treatments or more efficient operations. This study also can serve as a baseline for further assessments by providing a defined list of commonly applied procedures and a measure of how widely they are used. …

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