The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect

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Innovations in Security and Preservation

22. National Research Libraries and Protection of Cultural Resources
James F. Williams, II

The strategic stewardship of cultural resources requires at a minimum that research library deans or directors assume responsibility for the safety of employees and patrons, the physical protection of buildings and their contents and immediate surroundings, the establishment and implementation of protection programs concerning natural disasters, coordinated conservation and preservation programs, an asset protection policy, periodic audits of the library's assets and protection systems, and training programs related to the obligations and responsibilities of staff in all safety and security matters. As the head of a research library having unique information resources that represent the collective memory of human activity, the director or dean also has the responsibility to be a partner on the national level in the emerging national strategy to preserve and protect the nation's cultural resources. He or she must also implement this national strategy locally in the home institution.

The forms of risk to a research library are myriad. The research library dean or director must successfully provide a reasonable level of stewardship and protection, while at the same time offering the most reasonable level of access to the library organization. This balance must be founded on a careful consideration of risks, based on past experience, events, and environmental factors. It demands also the corresponding use of countermeasures, which should usually be expected to offer the desired level of protection for the institution. Failing to reach balance on this primary compromise could ultimately create a series of secondary, negative compromises of necessity (out of the dean or director's control) that could affect the continuing significance of the library. Those negative compromises could relate to legal liability based on a failure to preserve and protect, a negative reputation for the library based on the perceived fears of patrons, and the ultimate compromise, that is, a sense that the library denies a freedom of access that had been previously enjoyed.

Numerous forms of risk to academic libraries have been described in detail in a set of guidelines published by the Safety and Security Committee of the Buildings and Equipment Section of the Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA), a division of the American Library Association. [1] These guidelines cover (1) adequacy of protection, (2) fire and emergency protection, (3) physical barrier and lock and key security, (4) security duties and security staff, (5) personal access and parcel control, and (6) security alarms and electronics.

In the early 1990s, the incidence of crime on campus was highlighted in the public press in a New York Times Magazine article that described the personal dangers that exist on many campuses. [2] During that same period, Congress became so concerned about the incidence of crime on campus that it passed the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act in 1990, requiring campuses to report crime rates and types of offenses occurring on campus. [3] For academic libraries, P. Bean alleges that these institutions in particular have certain characteristics in common that make them particularly vulnerable to criminal activity. The foremost of these is their expectation that their assets will be taken away for use and returned at a later date. [4] Other common characteristics are open access policies, extended hours of operation, limited full-time staffing during evenings and weekends, a location on campus that may be out of the way, architectural design that creates invisible areas within the library and a lack of security training for the staff. These characteristics lead to crimes of opportunity, whose prevalence centers on theft of collections, vandalism or mutilation, theft of personal property and library equipment, voyeurism and exhibitionism, arson, and personal assaults on staff or patrons. The bottom line is that the perpetrators of these types of crimes of opportunity probably commit their offenses because of a perception that the threat of being caught is low.

There is another major risk, however, that is not associated with crime. The inscription over the door of the main library at the University of Colorado at Boulder reads, "Who Knows Only His Own Generation Remains Always a Child" (nescire autem quid ante quam sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum B Cicero, Orator 120). It goes without saying that the nation's research libraries continue to house and selectively preserve the record of human experience. They do so in general and special collections of unique primary resources and scholarly texts in print and many forms of other media. These collections continue to be of immense value to society and to its understanding of the past as it relates to the present and the future. Many of the invaluable items in these collections have been subjected to the vagaries of war, fire, floods, careless accidents, the wear and tear of use, and the passage of time. And others, either surrogates or those born digital, have already reached that point of extreme volatility for magnetic media that we know as physical deterioration.

Because of the highly acidic paper on which they are printed, most post-1850 print publications are at risk. In addition, as scholarship and scholarly communication become increasingly reliant on digital collections, research libraries are now faced with the complex intellectual question about which information to save—not whether to save, but what to save. The magnitude of the preservation problems in a given research library is determined by the age, scope, and composition of its various collections: collections that come in the form of monographs, journals, newspapers, maps, manuscripts, photographs, and digital images and collections that are represented on paper, vellum, film, magnetic tape, and disks of various types. Among the variety of these media, however, paper-based publications still constitute the majority of our research collections, and thus they are at the heart of the preservation crises in academic libraries. An early study at the Library of Congress, for example, found that some seventy-seven thousand of its volumes become brittle each year. [5] Risk assessment and risk management have thus become critical elements of an emerging national strategy to preserve and protect as the complex question of what collections to save is engaged both within and beyond the academy

Although it is much easier to agree on the need for preservation than on a national strategy to preserve and protect for continued access, one key element of that emerging national strategy is to consider sharing the responsibility. The recommendation is that if a library cannot afford the full range of operational expenses associated with the successful management of special collections, it (the library) should not attempt to house and manage such collections. [6] Any national strategy to preserve and protect must be based on the defining issue of selection—selection based upon common approaches, values, and prioritization across the research library and scholarly community—as well as on the choice of format for preservation. And, if that strategy is based on sharing national responsibility to preserve and protect those cultural resources most at risk, the follow-on assumption is that the strategy must be based on the integrity of local research collections.

Integrity in the individual academy library should be defined in terms of subject or collection-based comprehensiveness and strength, integrity that must therefore be determined through a discipline-by-discipline differentiation and analysis, made by scholars and library subject specialists in each field, of what is the total literature of each field. This determination should further be based on research patterns in each field and the uniqueness of the resources in that field. With an emphasis on at-risk resources, the partners who frame the national strategy must also take into account the enduring value of some resources as artifacts.

This discipline-by-discipline selection process should not be compromised by the need for expediency In addition, this selection process can be supplemented through secondary partnerships with learned societies, book collectors associations, antiquarian booksellers, auction houses, book dealers, and nationally known new and used bookstores. Several printed reference sources also exist through which a capability to both establish and check the current value of resources at risk may be implemented.

In the absence of such a national strategy, the members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) who have a preservation program currently use a variety of methods to preserve and protect their collections for future access and use. These include everything from commercial binding, to conservation treatment of rare materials, to digitization. These methods also include the storage of collections under properly controlled temperature and humidity. In 1998, the record of institutional support for preservation in ARL institutions was more than $82 million. [7] As the move to contain costs in higher education becomes a trend line, the threat to preservation programs in the research library community becomes a major challenge for scholars, librarians, and their institutions because of competition for resources. Thus, there is an immediate need to leverage existing resources through a national strategy that emphasizes collaboration and a reduction in duplicative effort while sharing the national responsibility to preserve, protect, and provide access. The blueprint for a national strategy that includes a major use of digitization for these purposes must address and solve the issues surrounding the challenge of "how to convert such collections to digital format," in Clifford Lynch's words, "in a way that facilitates reuse and enhancement by the broad scholarly community over time—that weaves primary content into a web of commentary criticism, scholarship, and instruction, and links it to other related content without regard to institutional or geographic boundaries, while preserving the integrity of the digitized representations." [8]

With major risks associated with the preservation crises at the national level, and other risks associated with crimes of opportunity at the local level in individual research libraries, it becomes apparent that responsibility to preserve and protect is a partnership that begins at the local level. A comprehensive program of safety and security in the local research library starts at the policy level and moves from there to implementation. The development of such comprehensive policies and programs involves many offices within and beyond the institution, including facilities management, human resources, disability and access services, institutional security risk management, the university attorneys, and law enforcement and other safety agencies in the community. At the policy level, there should be full compliance and integration of the library's policies with construction codes, with state laws related to library security, and with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Emergency Management Association, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and related emergency agencies. This level of compliance and integration should also assume institutional liaison and requisite reporting as related to these congressional acts and associated agencies. Compliance also assumes that the library will accept and respect the authority of the campus risk management office and police. This obligation includes attention to their analysis of risks to the library based on valuations of resources, levels and elements of liability coverage, past events, and current local, national, and international crime-watch bulletins.

The core of the library's safety and security policy must focus on adequacy of protection in all circumstances of risk. These policies should include (in no order of priority):

(1) a directory (including names and contact numbers) of those who are responsible for operations and actions during situations of risk;

(2) the rules of conduct and engagement for staff (regardless of rank) during situations of risk, in order to provide adequate protection to fellow workers and patrons, and the library's assets;

(3) specifications noting the location of the library's most valued physical assets, for instance, rare books, manuscripts, archives, and so on, for use by law enforcement and fire and other safety agencies, including a security operations review cycle specifically related to these resources and their location;

(4) specifications for the location of cold-site (versus hot-site) storage of back-ups to bibliographic and other resource-related files for reference by law enforcement and fire and other safety agencies, including a security operations review cycle specifically related to these resources and their location;

(5) a current valuation of the library's resources, highlighting those resources of highest value and at the greatest risk;

(6) an internal security plan that identifies the major threats and risks to staff, patrons, and the library's assets—a plan that anticipates each type of risk and addresses the library's specific plans (including staff training) and countermeasures for each type of threat (this internal security plan may also include a basic security operations manual for student employees or other part-time staff during those hours of operation when immediate access to upper level management is not possible);

(7) a staff training plan that includes training provided by professional safety personnel from within and beyond the institution, which, if it involves life safety assistance of fellow staff or patrons, should be approved by university attorneys as it relates to the institution's liability in certain circumstances;

(8) an emergency disaster plan that anticipates all such emergencies and includes specific staff instructions, institutional and community safety agencies that normally respond to threats of personal safety, major theft, vandalism, fire, floods, tornadoes, hazardous waste spills, and so on, and contacts for both facilities and consultants related to conservation and preservation;

(9) a comprehensive plan for special events that involve valuable assets owned by or on loan to the institution, which includes valuation of the assets involved in the event, determination of whose insurance will cover the liabilities associated with the event, the level of necessary security personnel for the event based on the valuation of assets, electronic surveillance methods, personal access and parcel control procedures, the level and nature of public relations associated with the event, donor-approval procedures related to all aspects of the event (if necessary), and pre- and post-event lock-up procedures;

(10) a statement about the institution's pre-employment screening guidelines as they relate to safety and security;

(11) a statement about the institution's qualifications for safety and security professionals, including what the staff can expect in terms of the physical, mental, and other characteristics of these professionals, once hired;

(12) where applicable, a statement about the expectations of the security employees in the library including their jurisdiction and authority;

(13) a timetable for life safety practice sessions, evacuation drills, emergency disaster response simulations, safety equipment demonstrations, and so on, that relates to all types of threats; and

(14) a timeline for regularized security audits that review the adequacy of the following basic elements of the library's security program: (a) opening procedures, (b) closing procedures, (c) patron screening, (d) bibliographic control, (e) special collections, (f) other limited circulation collections, (g) division of labor in acquisitions operations, (h) equipment and supplies, and (i) follow-up reporting on all occurrences related to risk.

In its library security guidelines, LAMA specifies for security alarms and electronics that reliable alarm security systems require the following six characteristics:

(1) local alarm annunciation when an area is occupied;

(2) consistent and rapid human response;

(3) professional selection and application of alarm sensors for good alarm coverage;

(4) secured communication lines and back-up power supply;

(5) appropriate adjusting, testing, inspection, and maintenance; and

(6) back-up annunciation at a commercial alarm monitoring facility. [9]

The LAMA guidelines go on to describe in detail the necessity for: continuous alarm protection; interrupted alarm protection; and audible and visual alarm annunciation. They specify overlapping security protection for high-security areas, with alarms to central stations that are monitored twenty-four hours a day and consistent and rapid response to security alarm annunciation during and after library hours of operation. Magnetic contact or microswitches should be in place on exterior perimeter openings, and glass-break detecting sensors or volumetric motion detection sensors should be in place on perimeter exterior surfaces with glass, as well as combination volumetric motion detection sensors to detect unauthorized persons in the library when it is closed.

For special collections, these precautions are augmented by the placement of magnetic contact or microswitches on all openings; vibrator alarm sensors on all flat surfaces to detect forced entry from unprotected areas; and microdot tags and radio frequency field labels in high-risk materials (for libraries with exit detection systems). Closed-circuit television systems, alarm key-pads with a confidential code to authenticate persons who open and close the library, and silent duress or panic alarms for persons who open and close the library are indicated. The guidelines also recommend hard-wired or wireless alarm systems with control panels; back-up and secure annunciation systems to an outside alarm monitoring facility (or municipal police or similar emergency dispatch station) that follows UL Standard 1610 for central station alarm units and meets UL Grade AA Communication Link requirements; and, last but not least, provision for alternative power supplies or generators. [10]

Additional security modifications should also include state-of-the-art archival storage rooms and vaults for special collections. To guard against crimes of opportunity, additional technological modifications may also include (1) enhanced card key systems, (2) surveillance cameras, (3) duress alarms at service desks, (4) scream alarms in restrooms, (5) portable alarm devices for staff, (6) communications systems for full staff alerts, and (7) computer security systems to protect against abuse or malicious use. The library market has already seen the introduction of automated inventory control and access systems that operate on radio frequency field labels that are integrated with patron identification and local library systems. These radio-frequency-based systems provide automatic circulation of materials, real-time inventory control, detailed use statistics at the material and patron level, immediate location of materials that are not in circulation, and the added advantage of security control against unauthorized users.

Because digitization holds the promise as one of the best ways to reformat and preserve resources at risk while providing networked access to them, the framers of a national strategy to preserve and protect must face the reality that there is no existing standard for the archival permanence of digitized resources. In the absence of such national standards, best practices and community-based standards are being applied across the country

These ad hoc standards are based on the work of recognized leaders in the field of digitization, such as the Council on Library and Information Resources, Cornell University, the Digital Library Federation, the Library of Congress, the Online Computer Library Center, the Research Libraries Group, and the University of California, Berkeley. [11] Most of the existing community-based standards developed to date should be viewed as minimum recommended standards with accompanying guidelines for the application of those standards. They typically contain sections on scanning, metadata creation and entry copyright, and collection development policy and selection. Taken as a corpus of digital project resources, these community-based standards and guidelines constitute a de facto national standard for those institutions entrusted with the strategic stewardship of cultural resources.

The strategic stewardship of cultural resources is a responsibility of immense proportions for the nation's museums, archives, and research libraries. This stewardship involves the daily security and preservation of the vast historical and intellectual records of human experience—records that are the foundation of scholarship, teaching, and discovery. Because of the kind and content of the risks—both real and perceived—associated with these resources, the need for coordinated national programs to preserve and protect them is apparent. At a minimum, national stewardship responsibilities place a corresponding local responsibility on the research library dean or director for the safety of employees and patrons, buildings, and collections. Protection programs related to natural disasters, coordinated conservation and preservation programs, and an asset protection policy are all necessary. Programs to audit asset and protection systems and adequate training programs for staff in all safety and security matters are essential elements of this stewardship. Local responsibility for security and preservation also means that the research library director must anticipate risks to cultural resources and thus maintain safeguards to prevent predictable losses associated with the major forms of risk.

Best practice—based on best knowledge—dictates a primary compromise on the question of how much security is too much or too little. That compromise must provide a reasonable level of stewardship and protection, while offering the most reasonable level of access to our cultural resources. It is a compromise that should be formalized in policy and founded on an ongoing consideration of risks and the use of innovative and effective countermeasures, which would usually be expected to offer the desired level of protection for an institution and its assets.

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  The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect
   September 15, 2008
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