Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Do You Count? the Revitalization of a National Preservation Statistics Survey

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Do You Count? the Revitalization of a National Preservation Statistics Survey

Article excerpt

The systematic collection of data that documents and describes preservation activities locally and nationally facilitated the emergence of library preservation as a professional field of practice and supports preservation programs today as libraries and archives preserve collections in a digital era. In the early years of the field, institutions conducted condition surveys such as Gay Walker's influential publication "The Yale Survey: A Large-Scale Study of Book Deterioration in the Yale University Library" to prioritize local preservation activities and advocate for program-building resources. (1) National efforts like the Association of Research Libraries' (ARL) Preservation Statistics Survey established benchmarks to measure research libraries' commitment to preservation. (2) Walker's article and the pilot ARL survey were both published in 1985, coinciding with an increased awareness of the need to prevent further deterioration of cultural heritage collections and with gradual increases in institutional expenditures on preservation.

For years, preservation programs in academic libraries have tracked their administrative and production activities for internal reporting and relied on a combination of local and national data to guide preservation decisions and to advocate for their programs. When ARL discontinued its Preservation Statistics program in 2009, the preservation community was shocked despite years of complaints that the survey inadequately reflected preservation activities, especially efforts to preserve and reformat non-book collections. While many institutions continued to maintain local data, the lack of a national statistics program impacted program administrators' ability to advocate for preservation measures within their own organizations. National preservation statistics fostered support for preservation among library administrators by demonstrating the commitment of peer institutions to preservation and providing a venue where libraries could be recognized for the system-wide benefits of their preservation efforts. Additionally, preservation administrators had come to rely on the ARL Preservation Statistics data to identify trends and changes within the field; to communicate the value of preservation efforts to libraries, patrons, and the general public; and to benchmark the performance of their own departments.

In terminating its Preservation Statistics program, ARL noted that "the preservation needs ARL addresses should focus at the policy level and not [on] the operational issues that the current ARL Preservation Statistics include" and that even with proposed changes to reflect emerging trends, the program was "not linked to strategic priorities." (3) This assessment stands in marked contrast to the rhetoric with which ARL launched the program less than twenty-five years earlier: "The aggregate result of our efforts should serve to strengthen the research capacities of our libraries for the years ahead. This is our obligation to future generations of scholars." (4)

While the elimination of the ARL Preservation Statistics program suggested a declining prioritization of preservation among the directors of ARL libraries, the preservation community recognized an ongoing need to collect data on preservation activities. In 2012, the Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS) of the American Library Association (ALA) launched a new national preservation statistics program. The new effort was different from ARL's program: while the previous survey was administered by ARL and managed by research library directors, the new survey was administered by volunteer preservation practitioners and managed by the preservation community. Additionally, the new survey was designed to reflect significant changes in the field, such as emerging digital preservation responsibilities and an increased focus on outreach activities, and to be flexible and prompt in reflecting other evolving preservation activities. …

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