Management Review

It is extremely challenging to establish and continue developing a library preservation program. The three most obvious and immediate needs are money, staff, and space, commodities that seem to be in increasingly short supply, even for more traditional and proven library departments. As relative newcomers on the library operational scene, preservation departments frequently have to fight harder than more well-established departments for resources and defend strategies not easily understood by their colleagues.

In many cases, preservation departments are launched to take advantage of the availability of grant funding. This conditional status imposes a level of stress that is unreasonable for a new program. For these and a variety of other reasons, it is important for preservation administrators to articulate preservation goals objectively, to identify the dimensions of preservation needs, and to develop realistic, cost-effective strategies that emphasize that preservation is an integral part of all other library operations.

In the development of any program, it is necessary to review needs and existing resources, analyze them, and prepare a long-range plan for accomplishing the mission.

The planning process

Preservation planning cannot occur in a vacuum. No matter what the source of funding or the consortial context, the impact on the library of a preservation program must be carefully assessed, and the many changes to which the institution is subject taken into account. Thus it is important to consider the reasons for establishing a preservation program and to understand the larger impetus behind it.

The widespread alarm caused by brittle books in library and archive circles throughout the world has helped to stimulate the creation of preservation programs. Though some condition surveys have fueled the movement toward preservation, it is often difficult to conduct these time-consuming studies without a preservation professional already in place. Thus objective studies of most collections have tended to occur after preservation programs are established, although there is little doubt that anecdotal figures about collection loss though brittle paper has helped to draw attention to one of the preservation problems that in turn led to their establishment.

Another factor influential in the establishment of preservation programs may be the sense that unique cultural treasures are in peril and that such a program will begin to rectify the accumulated damage of centuries. More frequently for academic research libraries, it seems, peer pressure within a group of libraries, combined with the availability of grant funds, has resulted in preservation programs. Another factor in decisions to establish a preservation program is the perception by library administrators that standard existing library operations need to be managed in a more efficient and cost-effective way.

The basic, easily understood needs for a preservation program are as follows:

  • Maintaining collections by implementing environmental controls, thereby reducing damage and deterioration
  • Replacing materials too damaged for normal use
  • Safeguarding new book and periodical purchases by designing appropriate contractual binding standards and specifications and developing efficient management systems to implement them, and creating cost-effective in-house binding systems for new materials suited to this approach
  • Responding quickly and effectively to material damage from reader use by establishing repair systems
  • Preserving and restoring some materials in original format

In 1980 the American Association of Research Libraries' Office of Management Services initiated a Preservation Planning Program (PPP) that is a valuable planning tool for libraries to use in assessing their preservation needs. The PPP approach, which stresses broad staff participation and uses cost-benefit analysis, is the most logical and systematic way to demonstrate the manageability of the problems revealed through objective studies of collections and standard operations, although the wholesale task force approach may need to be modified to suit the circumstances of individual libraries.

Developing a preservation management plan

In establishing a planning process, it is necessary to have morale-boosting administrative support in the form of budgets and space, staff and peer support, and user support. The main elements in preservation program planning are as follows:

  • Resource determination (what is available)
    • Facilities and space
    • Budgets
    • Staff
    • Evidence of support
  • Needs determination (what is needed)
    • Collections
    • Facilities
    • Practices and policies
    • Budgets
    • Facilities
  • Priorities determination
    • Long-term plan
    • Ramping up
  • Plan development
    • Goals and objectives
    • Strategies
    • Statement of priorities
    • Activities to attain objectives
    • Resources necessary for activities
    • Assignment of responsibility
    • Schedule for goals, objectives, and activities
  • Evaluation mechanisms
    • Progress review of long-term plan
    • Review of schedules

If a preservation professional is in place, the plan should be long-range, preferably a five-year plan. The most useful way to approach the process is to begin with an articulation of what the preservation program should be at the end of the five-year period. This should be followed by the design of each "ramp up" step, delineating what must be achieved every year in order to attain the end result. Clearly, a combination of the most pressing priorities and the most easily achievable aspects of the program would determine the order in which objectives are implemented. One strategy would be to analyze existing operations and their expenditures. This can often identify cost savings that can be used for further development, as well point to the possible re-deployment of staff.

The preservation professional should identify at least one task force of key staff from other areas of the library to help with developing the five-year plan. This will bring experienced professionals into the process and help to ensure that the overall plan has their support. The task force(s) should consider essential preservation program elements as necessary ingredients to the plan.

  • Needs assessment
    • Review of incoming materials
    • Continuous review for collections/facilities
  • Staff and user awareness training
  • Care and stabilization of collections
    • Environmental control and monitoring
    • Security and emergency procedures
    • Storage practices
    • Exhibition monitoring
  • Conservation treatment
    • Stabilization of new acquisitions
    • Repair of materials damaged by use
    • Processing materials for commercial binding
    • Treatment of rare/semi-rare materials
  • Reformatting
    • Project reformatting of collections
    • Use-driven reformatting of deteriorated items
    • Reformatting for surrogate purposes
    • Reformatting for access
  • Cooperative opportunities and responsibilities
  • Administrative initiatives
    • Disaster and recovery planning
    • Facilities planning

Needs assessment: Sample condition surveys

Needs should be quantified in a way that can help to determine the dimension of the challenge, so that resources will be allocated properly.

An example is the random sample survey of bound periodicals to determine patterns of use, which in turn can provide information needed to design appropriate bindings or to suggest that certain titles not be bound at all. However, the way the data is gathered must ensure that the sample is randomly selected and that the number of items examined reflects the group as a whole. Moreover, the questions answered must be the right ones. In a bound periodical survey of this kind, the data sought can be quite simple: number of times circulated, evidence of use, and evidence of binding wear or stress. Early analysis of commercial library binding costs and procedures leads inevitably to the establishment of basic preservation operations that not only generate significant cost savings to further advance the program, but also, almost incidentally, help to build the essential infrastructure on which the program can develop.

The size of the sample to be surveyed has been a matter of some concern to librarians, especially as statisticians tell us that the relationship of the sample size to the size of the population (collection) is irrelevant. Carl Drott, the writer most widely cited by librarians, sets forth the principles on which sample size is based by describing a system involving "confidence level" and "tolerance." Confidence level is the measure of how certain the surveyor is that the result falls within the limits of tolerance, and tolerance is a measure and expression of the range of accuracy of the result. Drott recommends the base number of 400 items for most collection surveys.

The method of sample selection is of vital importance to the design and validity of sample surveys. For random sampling, each item in the collection must have an equal chance of being included in the survey. This is to ensure that the random sample is representative of the entire population. There are a number of ways to ensure randomness, the most objective being through tables of random numbers. Although many library preservation surveys have utilized tables of random numbers, the samples have usually been conditioned by "stratification," that is, a proportionate number of items from each stratum (subject area, collection, branch library, etc.) is surveyed to produce more coherent and particular results. Given the complexities of research library collections, the variety of formats and multiplicity of use patterns, careful stratification seems essential if the results are to be useful.

Other common methods of sample selection are systematic and fractional sampling. Typically, systematic sampling involves drawing the requisite number of items at a fixed interval from a list. For example, in a sample of 400 to be drawn from a shelf list card file of 100,000, every 250th card would be pulled, beginning at a random point in the file. Another, less tedious approach would be to take the linear measure of the cards in the shelf list and divide this by the sample number. Thus a 30-meter shelf list would yield a sample card every 7.5 centimeters. Fractional sampling uses the same basic procedure, except that the sample card is selected at random from within the interval, that is, from within each 7.5-centimeter group. The validity of systematic and fractional sampling depends on the unbiased ordering of the shelf list. It is generally assumed that conventional library shelf lists are ordered in an unbiased fashion.

The types of questions to be answered by a sample survey, and how many questions, obviously depend on the range of data gathered and the survey's purpose. If the survey incorporates a decision-making or prioritizing model, an attempt should be made to combine risk factors that place the surveyed item at jeopardy (such as lack of fire protection, inadequate environmental controls, and absence of a disaster plan) with vulnerability (such as high frequency of use, poor security, and high value) and condition.

Condition surveys are designed to identify the physical condition of the collection in a much more specific manner, often combining observations on damage and deterioration with incidence and type of use. The greater the number of condition categories, the longer the survey will take, and a balance has to be struck between the value of the data and the cost of the survey. During planning, the results of the survey can help to determine priorities, and can also serve as a rhetorical device to rally support for the program.

Needs assessment: Action surveys

A variant of the condition survey is the action survey. What actions are needed to replace, protect, or treat the items examined? For example, the action survey, instead of reporting that an item has brittle paper, will identify the item as a candidate for reformatting. Cornell University's Department of Preservation and Collection Maintenance has developed an action survey system based on a model used successfully for many years. This is available for downloading.

This type of action survey is usually conducted at the shelf using a laptop computer. Although the system can be used for sample surveys, it is most valuable for comprehensive surveys, in which every item in a designated area is examined, and items in need of some form of preservation action are entered in the data base along with the call number, date of publication, and size. The data provides precise cost information and can sort items by action type. The costs are derived from time estimates for each action category converted into salary, equipment, and supply costs.

Documentation and funding

Surveys, particularly the type used by Cornell University, frequently provide the main rationale behind a proposal to a funding agency. Thus the data collected and processed must be accurate and capable of addressing and answering a wide range of questions. Preservation production proposals to funding agencies are analogous to commercial contract bidding. On the one hand, if the preservation strategy recommended is inappropriate and the unit costs are unreasonably high, the "bidding" library will not be funded. On the other hand, if the plan of work is too ambitious and the unit costs are too low, the project may be funded but the library is unable to complete the project without compromising other operations.

Consequently, grant proposals, which derive from surveys and costing efforts, usually provide more accurate descriptions of collections, their value, patterns of use, and condition than is commonly available through routine planning. A grant proposal's plan of work provides a blueprint for action and determines costs, degree of effort, production schedule, and predicted outcome. It also establishes reporting protocols that require an ongoing evaluation of the project and the performance of staff.

Most library preservation departments now take advantage of the power and flexibility of computers to track, via file and spreadsheet systems, their progress in fulfilling the commitments of a grant. Because of strict budget control requirements, every aspect of the library's cost share must be similarly tracked to provide a constant and auditable record.

As grant funds become more freely available for a comprehensive approach to preservation problems, preservation administrators will respond by designing sophisticated models for describing a greater variety of problems within specific collections along with a broader range of strategies for their resolution. This "whole collection" approach, incorporating all kinds of research materials (books, manuscripts, photographs, graphics arts, and so forth) and all appropriate preservation strategies, will encourage administrators to apply the rigorous principles of grant project management to standard preservation operations.

Integrated planning

Institutional and government administrators are not likely to be swayed by speeches on the ethics of preservation, but their support may be gained by objective, quantifiable demonstrations of need and the overall cost effectiveness of sound preservation management. The planning document should stress the links between improved bibliographic access provided by an increasing number of machine- readable records and the need to fulfill the promise of those records by physical accessibility. The document should also stress the role that grant-funded preservation plays in building bibliographic data bases.

Preservation professionals are beginning to realize that, given the continuing growth of research collections, it is not possible, or even advisable, to preserve everything. Preservation management information based on careful analysis of the collections and preservation operations, integrated with collection management information on collection value and utility, should drive the selection mechanisms for preservation and, by extension, long-range planning. For many preservation professionals, the struggle for recognition within their own libraries and the drive to secure outside funding have placed preservation at the forefront of essential questions about the future of the library.


Preservation professionals should emphasize that preservation is one of the most important costs of doing business because it safeguards institutional assets. While grant funding plays an important role, institutions themselves need to support preservation.

Even within libraries themselves, there is often little understanding of the need for preservation and the strategic value that a coherent preservation program can bring. Although unique cultural artifacts are regarded with pride by institutions and nations, their preservation must often be secured through reliance on the generosity of strangers. Library administrators need to be informed about the value of preservation and must then convince institutional administrators and government officials that preventive action to save collections is significantly less expensive than trying to recover badly damaged research materials.

New technology has the capacity to vastly improve access to research materials, providing the materials are available for conversion at the right time. While the amount of digital information increases daily, and digital versions of research library materials ease the task of the scholar, only a very small fraction of research collections will ever be converted to digital format. In part, this is because of the sheer size of accumulated collections, but it is also because most electronic information is commercially produced and much of what scholars hold dear has little commercial value.

It is therefore important that the preservation professional, through careful planning, communicate the importance of his or her mission within the individual library, institution, region, and nation.