An Expert Assessment of North American Preservation
The editorial office has received a copy of the ARL Preservation
Planning Task Force Final Report (Association of Research
Libraries, Washington, DC, April 1994). It is summarized here because
it gives an unusually well-informed assessment of preservation in North
America, with emphasis on the U.S.
The report is the outcome of a preservation planning conference
held in May 1992, cosponsored by the University of Chicago Library
and the ARL. So far it has not been published on paper, although it
is available on the Internet. (Go to gopher.cni.org and open the
folder named "Preservation," then open the folder named "Task force.")
Because of the small audience of decision-makers for which it was
intended, and the awkward length (about 6600 words), it has been hard
for ARL to find an economical and appropriate publishing venue for
the printed version. ARL is open to suggestion, however; send ideas to
Because the report has still not been printed and not everybody
has access to the Internet, this summary is as full as space allows.
Readers who are interested should still look at the original if they
can, though, because much meaningful detail had to be omitted.
Participants at the 1992 Chicago conference included the
directors, collection development librarians, and preservation
librarians from ARL libraries with established preservation
programs, and representatives of organizations involved in
preservation. They identified issues to address, and recommended
establishment of a task force to clarify the issues and develop
strategies. Nine members were appointed to the task force:
Martin Runkle, University of Chicago, Chair, who was succeeded
after the 1992 meeting by Robert L. Street, Stanford University
Ross Atkinson, Cornell University
Diane Kresh, Library of Congress
Patricia McClung, Research Libraries Group
Jan Merrill-Oldham, University of Connecticut
Carole Moore, University of Toronto and Canadian Liaison
Carolyn Morrow, Harvard University
Barclay Ogden, University of California-Berkeley
Eugene Wiemers, Northwestern University
and Jutta Reed-Scott, ARL staff, who worked with the Task Force.
Parts I and II of the report was written as a white paper for the
Task Force, by Jutta Reed-Scott, Jan Merrill-Oldham, and Carolyn
Morrow. It describes the goals and objectives of major
organizations' preservation efforts, and identifies needs left
unmet. Part III was drafted by the Task Force as a preservation
action plan for consideration by the ARL Committee on Preservation
of Research Library Materials.
The major organizations whose preservation programs are described
American Library Association
Association of Research Libraries
Commission on Preservation and Access
National Endowment for the Humanities
Research Libraries Group
Others that contribute to the national effort are the Library
of Congress, American Institute for Conservation, Image Permanence
Institute, National Media Lab and Getty Conservation Institute.
In Part II, outstanding needs are identified in eight areas of
- Bibliographic access to preserved materials. Information
is needed regarding preservation activity other than microfilming--e.g.,
for deacidification. The mechanism exists, but it not used.
More information about serials holdings is needed in records for
preservation microform masters.
- Environmental conditions and housing of collections. Needs
here are for funding, and research on the effects of temperature
and humidity on the life expectancy of materials.
- Coordinating selection for preservation. Selection of materials
for microfilming projects has been mostly on the basis of subject.
Many professionals, however, support the principle of selection
on the basis of use, condition and value. Five needs are identified:
Selection for preservation at the point of acquisition, which
will require cooperation between bibliographers, collection managers
and preservation administrators; good ways to identify brittle
materials for reformatting; better coordination among libraries
in selection, so as to provide comprehensive coverage of subject
areas; better coordination between large and small research libraries;
and better use of Conspectus On-line's scope notes about completed
and ongoing preservation projects that are completed or under
way--or construction of a similar database that could aid
- Education and training of preservation personnel. Preservation
topics need to be incorporated in core programs in library schools
and continuing education programs; educational opportunities are
needed to ensure a pool of highly skilled preservation professionals;
non-preservation staff need to know about preservation issues,
technologies and processes; and more trained collections conservators
- Technical quality of information media and preservation treatments.
Condition surveys and audit procedures are needed to ensure long-term
access to microfilm master negatives and digital records; and
mass deacidification procedures should continue to be assessed
as they evolve.
- Standards development. Manufacturing and environmental storage
guidelines are needed for a variety of media; and the results
of various preservation treatments, including mass deacidification,
need to be assessed.
- Research and the application of technologies. Many of the
decisions being made today are based more on experience and intuition
than on the results of focused scientific experimentation. Research
projects should reflect agreed-upon priorities for the North American
preservation effort. These priorities must be set. Results of
the research must be communicated in a meaningful way to the preservation
community and should be translated into usable technologies wherever
- Information needs for effective preservation management.
Examples of management information that has been found useful
are the annual ARL Preservation Statistics, results of condition
surveys, and Patricia McClung's 1986 article on the costs associated
with preservation microfilming. Modeling in the broadest sense
is suggested, for example to discover the full costs of access
to different types of media. Cost models providing comparative
economic data could support more systematic decision-making [such
as Steven Puglia's 1995 cost-benefit analysis for copying or storing
of acetate film, published in this newsletter last September].
ARL's action plan (in Part III) has two parts: continuation of
ongoing activities, and new initiatives. Six of ARL's ongoing
activities are endorsed:
Support and advance North America preservation efforts. This
involves coordinating activities with comparable organizations such
as RLG; funding agencies; institutions such as libraries, archives,
museums; and industry.
- Support member libraries' preservation programs by assisting
with needs assessment and long-range planning. This includes
advocacy, publication, and development of educational and training
- Assist in assessing the scope of preservation activity in
ARL libraries (e.g., the Preservation Statistics Survey).
- Promote education and training for preservation managers,
technical specialists and generalists. Provide management information
for preservation administrators; develop training programs for
them, especially in electronic technologies as a preservation
strategy; and integrate more preservation information into library
- Support effective bibliographic control of preservation-related
records. Complete retrospective conversion of the National Register
of Microform Masters master file; examine issues related to bibliographic
control of digitized files.
- Monitor technological developments, keeping members informed
and recommending action where appropriate.
Five initiatives were recommended for ARL and its membership to
- Establish a national coordinated serials preservation project.
Long runs of serials have become brittle, or rare, or both, but
there are obstacles to filming them. Not only are holdings typically
incomplete, but there is often no information on which parts of
a run are actually missing. This makes interlibrary loan awkward,
because there is often no way to tell which library is able to
send the missing parts. A three-phase pilot project in a core
discipline important to ARL libraries and users is outlined.
- Review the ARL preservation effort to date, and identify new
targets and selection methods. The large-scale microfilm project
of the last ten years has preserved a large number of paper-based
materials, but vast quantities remain at risk. The problem of
identifying them has become increasingly difficult and expensive.
There is no way to tell which subject areas have been covered
more, or less, comprehensively than the others. The subject approach
to selection for preservation will become less and less productive.
Alternative bases for selection are suggested, preferably selection
by use. An updated and reactivated Conspectus could serve as
a national preservation database; this was one of the original
purposes of the Conspectus. Working groups on database development
and on selection are recommended.
- Develop cost models for preservation decision making. This
would enable the preservation administrator to compare the cost
effectiveness of various strategies for preserving collections
with different condition, use and value.
- Identify and support new preservation-related standards.
These are needed for the use of digital technologies for preservation
purposes, optimal environments for long-term storage of library
materials, library binding processes and maerials, and methods
for conserving artifacts. Where no standards exist, means of
achieving consensus should be developed, and ARL libraries should
be represented in groups that identify standards for development.
- Commend the work of the Commission on Preservation and Access
Science Research Council. This should be done formally through
a letter from ARL leadership, and reported widely in the library