Evolving Roles of Preservation Professionals: Trends in Position Announcements from 2004 to 2015

By Miller, Mary; Horan, Martha | Library Resources & Technical Services, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Evolving Roles of Preservation Professionals: Trends in Position Announcements from 2004 to 2015


Miller, Mary, Horan, Martha, Library Resources & Technical Services


In the 1989 paper, "Evolution of Preservation Librarianship as Reflected in Job Descriptions from 1975 through 1987," Cloonan and Norcott analyzed the contents of position announcements to trace the early growth of the preservation profession. (1) During the time period that they studied, key developments took place in the field that necessitated the study of preservation employment. First, the School of Library Service at Columbia University established degree programs for conservators and preservation administrators. Second, the Association for Research Libraries (ARL) Preservation Statistics Survey documented increased grant funding and expenditures for preservation in libraries. (2)

In the years since, innumerable changes have taken place, both in the field of preservation and in libraries. In 2009, ARL discontinued its Preservation Statistics program. That same year, the University of Texas at Austin ended its conservation and preservation administration certificate programs, a program formerly hosted by Columbia University. These events signaled a time of transition, and perhaps reduction, for the profession. At the same time, one of the most significant changes for both preservation and libraries in the last few decades--the rise of digital technologies--has greatly expanded the scope and complexity of preserving content to support current and future research and scholarship. Libraries and other cultural heritage institutions now balance the preservation of books, manuscripts, archives, and audio-visual materials with born-digital and digitized content. Preservation activities extend far beyond the traditional center of activity, the preservation department, to information technology (IT), metadata departments, collection management, and beyond. Collaborative, large-scale models for preservation have emerged, such as the HathiTrust Digital Library and shared print repository programs, such as the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST).

As preservation challenges and strategies evolve, professional positions in preservation--both traditional and digital--must also evolve to meet the needs of research institutions. It can be challenging to measure and characterize changes in preservation positions, particularly because a set of core competencies has not been defined for the profession. This study sets the framework for the future work of determining competencies for the field. The purpose of this study is to identify the changing roles of preservation professionals in libraries, including potential changes in position functions, and changes in the competencies and credentials that employers require for preservation positions. To accomplish this, the authors examined the content of job advertisements, or position announcements, for professional positions with significant preservation responsibilities from 2004 through 2015. Administrative and other generalized positions were included, plus specialized positions, such as those that focused on digital content or audiovisual media. In undertaking this analysis, the authors sought to answer the following questions:

1. How have the range and scope of preservation responsibilities changed over time, specifically from 2004 to 2015?

2. Which educational backgrounds, skill sets, and types of experience do employers most frequently require? Have these requirements changed over time?

3. Has the role of preservation administrator changed significantly in the last decade?

4. What potential "core" preservation knowledge and skills can be identified from studying position announcements?

Literature Review

Although the field of preservation librarianship has evolved dramatically in the twenty-seven years since Cloonan and Norcott's study, there have been no further studies on position postings and there is relatively little literature on the content of positions or employer requirements. Instead, authors have largely focused on characterizing and measuring preservation activities, programs, and expenditures through surveys, reports, and literature reviews. …

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