The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect

Publications (The Library of Congress)

Winston Tabb and Mark Roosa

"To Preserve and Protect" brought together a wide range of participants from a variety of backgrounds. Our speakers engaged us in a number of topics, and all our participants had the opportunity to discuss areas of common concern.

As we consider where we go from here, let us review some of the themes that emerged. One of our greatest anxieties at the Library of Congress, entering into the symposium, was that the nexus between security and preservation, which seemed so natural to us at the Library might seem like a shotgun marriage to others. But it was reassuring to see, as the symposium progressed, that more and more speakers referred to the link between protecting and preserving as if it were obvious.

From the first day of the symposium, the welcoming remarks by Librarian James Billington reminded us of the responsibility that we all share in preserving and protecting our heritage assets, pointing to the importance of collaboration and the urgent need for coordinated action both nationally and internationally to achieve this goal. Shirley Baker, vice chancellor for information technology and dean of university libraries at Washington University in St. Louis, reminded us on that day that this challenge extends to information stored in new formats and will require that we rethink the notion of artifactual value in the preservation equation. In response to a request from the General Accounting Office that the Library of Congress place a precise monetary value on its collections, the Library has taken integrated steps to provide physical security, preservation, bibliographic control, and inventory control for its collections, as we outline in chapter 4.

"Cultural Heritage at Risk: Today's Stewardship Challenge" explored some of the relationships that cultural institutions and their funders maintain and the shared and divergent expectations that each have. Werner Gundersheimer reminded us of what happens when things technological "bite back," citing 100,000 feet of microfilm in the Folger's collections that have become infected with the vinegar syndrome, advising us to maintain a "healthy skepticism" for technological innovation aimed at preserving our cultural assets. With regard to Nicholson Baker's critique of newspaper preservation, he noted that—like it or not—librarians are not alone in the business of caring for the long-term preservation of the cultural patrimony. Describing the "Janus Factor,'" Nancy Cline pointed to how security and preservation are fundamentally and inextricably linked to one another, as different sides of the same coin, and added that to create an environment where access and protection are in equilibrium, all parts of an organization must be on board.

With an eye toward identifying actions that cultural institutions might take to address preservation and security concerns on an institutional basis, we organized four sessions around the theme "Mobilizing for the Future: Strategies, Priorities, and Expectations for Preservation and Security."

"As Strong as Its Weakest Link: Developing Strategies for a Security Program" explored the components of institutional security programs and addressed minimum requirements for these efforts. Laurie Sowd reminded us that no matter the type of institution we work in, or what our areas of responsibility, the essential ingredients for a successful security program are people, technical systems, and policies and procedures, tied together with effective training. Steven Herman described the Library of Congress's integrated collections security plan, which aims to identify the risk status of items as they are processed, stored, used, transported, and exhibited. Charles Lowry reviewed actions the University of Maryland libraries have taken to assess their security and safety policies and procedures in partnership with the Association of Research Libraries to reinforce a philosophy of shared responsibility among all staff.

"The Big Picture: Preservation Strategies in Context" proposed models for determining preservation priorities while questioning current preservation views. Jan Merrill-Oldham posed the questions of whether digitizing is an effective replacement for microfilming as the method of choice for preserving information printed on decaying paper and whether we can realistically preserve the digital resources that we create, however carefully crafted. Doris Hamburg described the architecture of the Library of Congress's preservation security plan, integrated within its overall collections security plan. Jeffrey Field reported on the support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1979 to develop a national preservation infrastructure by strengthening the capacity of institutions to care for their collections, with the intent of preserving significant humanities collections.

"The Silver Lining: Coping with Theft, Vandalism, Deterioration, and Bad Press" examined the way bad experiences can sometimes lead to good things, including the improvement of preservation and security measures. Jean Ashton described the theft of $1.3 million worth of codices, early printed books, presidential letters, medieval documents, business papers, and maps from Columbia University in 1994 and how this affected the staff and served as a siren call for action. Lynne Chaffinch described investigations she has been involved in as manager of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Art Theft Program, with resulting legal action taken to capture and prosecute thieves of cultural property. She discussed the dramatic theft by two men disguised as police officers who broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, on Saint Patrick's Day 1990 and stole pieces of art—including works by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Vermeer—valued at approximately $300 million, which have never been recovered. Her tale reminded us of the danger of placing trust solely in our traditional modes of security. Camila Alire described one of our worst nightmares—awaking to a call that millions of gallons of water had submerged the library's collections—and walked us through the stages of recovering from such a catastrophic event.

"Building the Budget: To Successfully Promote Your Program and to Meet Major Funding Demands for Preservation and Security" looked at how institutions set funding levels for preservation and security and sustain support in the face of budget uncertainty. Noting the dichotomy inherent in protecting and sharing, Nancy Gwinn encouraged us to "use the power of the original" and to build on "the strength of our past" as recipes to garner support for preservation funding. James Neal reviewed core preservation program designs and described how their elements might be target marketed to funders. He enlightened us as to some of the traditional and entrepreneurial strategies for fund-raising, reminding us to leverage our assets to generate new income streams for conservation and preservation. Deanna Marcum described the role of the Council on Library and Information Resources on the national front and asked what role preservation programs should play in the digital age. She noted that in the face of imperiled funding for preservation, the need increases for individual institutions to contribute to the national collection of scholarly resources and accept responsibility for preserving their share of materials that have lasting scholarly value.

"Understanding Success: Measuring Effectiveness of Preservation and Security Programs" supplied us with a few examples of how we might measure the impact of our preservation and security efforts. For example, James Reilly offered a new way of quantifying the impact of the storage environment on collections longevity as a basis on which to estimate the return on investment for expensive heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning costs. Francis Ponti introduced us to statistical sampling methods and identified sampling projects undertaken at the Library of Congress. In wrapping up the symposium session, Nancy Davenport, the Library of Congress's director for acquisitions, suggested that seas of statistical data could be mined to provide useful snapshots of what is going on in our collections and reminded us to ask in so doing only those questions that have quantifiable answers.

"Electronic Information and Digitization: Preservation and Security Challenges" shifted our concerns to the rapidly proliferating world of digital information and the challenges of preserving both born-digital information and format-based digital resources. Carl Fleischhauer pointed to the changing shape of preservation in the digital future and noted that although preservation of content in digital form often begins with security issues, such reasons alone are not sufficient to justify preservation of digital content. Musing on how digitization might be accomplished within an institutional context, he added that simple copying is not enough—we must also consider the migration of content, emulation of the technical environment, and digital paleography. Maxwell Anderson pointed to our instinctive devotion to preserving all artworks and intellectual property at any cost, the instability and impermanence of digital platforms, and the fluid and seemingly infinite permutations of any digital experience as the three most vexing obstacles that cultural institutions face in the digital age. Clifford Lynch brought to our attention rough spots on the digital highway especially with regard to digital copyright issues. He noted that whereas the scholarly and publishing communities have made considerable progress preserving information in digital form—because of the commitment to permanent access shared throughout the entire community of authors, publishers, libraries, and readers involved with financing, producing, distributing, managing, and using this literature—the consumer marketplace lacks a similar shared vision, so that we face a looming copyright crisis as consumer goods move into digital form.

"People, Buildings, and Collections: Innovations in Security and Preservation" posed such questions as, "How much security or preservation is too little or too much?" "How do cultural organizations that are typically open to the public maintain appropriate security and preservation measures?" and "What are some of the innovative and effective ways that organizations have maintained this balance?" With regard to the second question, Kenneth Lopez described efforts by the Library of Congress to work across administrative divisions to protect people, buildings, and collections. On the question of how much security is enough, James Williams pointed out that our best practices must provide for a reasonable level of stewardship and protection, while also offering the most reasonable level of access to our nation's cultural resources, an effort that must be formalized in policy, founded on considerations of risk, and implemented to produce the desired level of protection for an institution and its cultural assets. Abby Smith illustrated some of the difficult choices that institutions and individuals must make when taking action to preserve cultural assets even though confronted with overwhelming amounts of information and limited preservation solutions. She encouraged us not to be diverted from the business of preservation by the allure of new access technologies, and she challenged us to view the value of collections in relation to institutional goals and constituent needs and to examine how that value changes over time. New technologies, she points out, for creating, disseminating, and preserving information are changing our sense of the intrinsic value of library collections.

Discussion on the theme "Envisioning New Directions: Cooperation in Preserving and Securing Collections Nationally and Internationally" gave us an opportunity to respond to some of the ideas put forward with an eye toward articulating the most pressing issues we face and ways in which we might collaborate to address these concerns.

Several strong themes emerged from our discussions, as a first step toward understanding where we need to go from here to create partnerships to advance integrated preservation and security efforts in our institutions. It was intentional that we focused discussion from the final session on the notion of cooperation, with the understanding that partnerships between preservation and security programs within institutions are just taking shape and that building opportunities for future cooperation is an essential ingredient for constructing a strong infrastructure to protect cultural assets in all types of institutions.

We asked the facilitators of our breakout sessions to gather participants' ideas regarding two questions: (1) What are the top three challenges that we face in building stronger preservation and security programs? and (2) What are the top three suggestions that will help us better collaborate to strengthen our collective preservation and security capabilities? We identified some of the top challenges as the following.

  • Institutions must find funding for both preservation and security.

  • The impact of evolving technologies on preservation must be understood.

  • It is important for us to cooperate on several levels—both within and among institutions—in our national and regional programs for preservation and security.

  • Prioritization is crucial in selecting levels of importance and understanding current and potential use. It is especially important in the more complex digital world.

  • We need to market preservation and security—to give them greater visibility, both internally among stakeholders, and externally within our communities.

  • Because we lack economic models for collaboration among institutions, we should seek the help of experts in structuring models and determining how best to use them.

  • We need to act as advocates within our institutions for preservation and security measures.

  • We need consensus on standards for preservation of digital copies and standards for access to them.

  • Our buildings must become good repositories for valuable collections through new construction or through retrofitting them to upgrade them. Facilities must meet minimum standards for preservation, security, theft suppression, and detection.

  • As we shape integrated security and preservation programs and integrate them into our institutions, we should ask who the professionals are who will make this happen. What about their training, education, expertise?

This list is not exhaustive, but it does provide a start toward mapping the areas we need to focus on in the future.

After considering common challenges, we turned to developing collaborative initiatives. In the area of collections security, we shared many interesting points and examples. In particular, we seem to agree that there is a need for rigor and business-like approaches—realizing that library directors, library staff members, and scholars are all quite capable of being threats to the security of our collections and that we need to build safeguards and controls that assume the worst in human nature. As for collaborative action in this arena, the most important is rapid and open sharing of information—both about particular threats and losses as well as about techniques that we have found effective in our local settings.

In the area of preservation, three themes emerged. First, preservation must take many forms. Second, we need to pay more attention as a community to retention of the artifact. And, third, whatever we do, we must do it together, preferably as part of a coherent national strategy.

At the Library of Congress, we have made a special effort in the last decade to develop a well-rounded preservation program—to look at environmental controls, rehousing, reformatting, deacidification, digitization, and conservation as indispensable arrows in our preservation quiver, to be selected for the appropriate targets. It was encouraging to see each of these aspects of preservation assume importance at one point or another in our discussions—and no one of them ever put forward as a panacea in and of itself. We obviously have come to recognize the complexity of our task.

In regard to concern about retention of the artifact, we elicited various ideas about how important this is, how many copies of any item are needed, what kinds of formats are needed, and who should retain them. The importance of retaining the artifact surfaced among us as an issue in a sustained way that would not have typified such a conference five or six years ago.

And, finally symposium participants developed a host of ideas about ways to promote collaboration.

It was agreed that institutions should work collaboratively to develop a greater range of tools to assess a wide variety of security and preservation needs. More conferences like "To Preserve and Protect" might identify common interests and help the preservation and security communities organize to develop a structure that makes collaboration possible. Security should be an issue added to consortia agendas. Pooling technology research and development would help us find preservation solutions. Beyond that, lobbying to clarify or modify the copyright law would help ensure our ability to preserve content. Licensed rather than owned content provisions could facilitate preservation of born-digital products. Other suggestions for collaboration included developing a shared database of potential preservation collections, building facilities that could be used by more than one institution, and developing a compelling story that could be told to convey these concerns. It is important to undertake standards development in all areas of security and preservation and to establish mechanisms for sharing information regarding security issues and infractions. We need to collaborate to preserve material by discipline or topic, identifying which institutions can tackle specific problems, selectively distributing assignments, and meeting regularly to share ideas and resources.

The Library of Congress is aware that the kind of national strategy we need must be developed thoughtfully with our major stakeholders. Many of those stakeholders were well represented in discussions at the symposium; but others, such as intellectual property owners, were not.

In any case, at the same time that the Library of Congress is committed to leadership—doing what a national library should among its community of libraries—it is also committed to leadership through collaboration. And so we would propose to advance the ideas brought forward here as a partner with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in the recently proposed "Joint Study on the State of Preservation Programs in American Libraries."

Some of the components such a study needs to consider if it is to lead to a coherent, compelling national preservation strategy include deacidification, last-copy responsibilities, digitization, databases with easily accessible preservation information, and environmentally safe repositories. In addition, the Library of Congress will address other issues in the near term. One such issue is copyright legalities that have hampered our progress in coping with digital materials. In addition to accelerating development of a full-production electronic copyright deposit system—which we are now working on in response to the National Academy of Sciences study LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress (July 2000)—the Library has plans to ask Congress to amend the copyright law to make clear the Library's authority to copy open-access Web material, much as the current copyright law gives the Library the authority to tape news broadcasts without in fringing the network's copyrights. But more important, the Library is interested in obtaining authority to have authorized agents do this work on our behalf, under clearly delineated conditions, both for access and for preservation. Although the initial focus would be on clarifying our relationship with the Internet Archive, our current partner, this concept of "agents" could, if judiciously applied, provide an opening for forms of collaboration in collections-building and preservation beyond what we have ever dreamed of as a community.

The Library of Congress also plans to participate in a potential national collaborative initiative concerning the development of scholarly portals, described in the work that Jerry Campbell and others have done for ARL. This concept became a theme of the Library's symposium "National Libraries of the World," held on October 23-26, 2000, as well, when our new colleague from the British Library, Lynne Brindley, described an initiative in Great Britain whereby the national library and various university libraries have agreed to take on responsibility for portals in specific subject areas.

Because we often have more success with funders—certainly at the national level—when we can demonstrate that we are solving multiple national problems simultaneously it has occurred to us that we might think for the longer term about a similar but more expansive model in the United States. Could we choose a few subjects or disciplines, divide them among several libraries, and assign each library responsibility for permanent retention of the appropriate artifacts—properly deacidified and permanently stored at fifty degrees Fahrenheit and 35 percent relative humidity; documented in an internationally accessible database; and, to the extent copyright or licenses permit, made accessible through the Internet for wide use? In this model, no library would have to give up anything, but through it we might have information and predictable behaviors on which to base acquisitions, retention, and preservation decisions that we do not now have. Such a scheme is not without problems, of course, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to realize such a concerted national preservation and access program. Let us try to make something as challenging as this happen in our lifetimes.

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