The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect

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James H. Billington

This volume of essays from the symposium "To Preserve and Protect: The Strategic Stewardship of Cultural Resources," held at the Library of Congress October 30-31, 2000, records an important event that complemented an array of celebratory and intellectually engaging activities held during the Library's bicentennial year. In affiliation with the Association of Research Libraries and the Federal Library and Information Center Committee, the Library turned to recognized scholars, experts, and professionals to examine some of the pressing issues facing libraries as they enter the twenty-first century. We convened outstanding thinkers from all over the world for our Symposia on "Frontiers of the Mind," "Informing the Congress and Nation," "Democracy and the Rule of Law in a Changing World Order," "Poetry and the American People," and the "National Libraries of the World." These dialogues set the stage for the bicentennial symposium on preserving and protecting our cultural heritage assets.

As guardians of so much of the physical record of the past, libraries have special obligations and opportunities to preserve and protect our cultural heritage. Whereas the Library of Congress and other research libraries may have distinct—even unique—collections, we all share a common responsibility to preserve the breadth and depth of the human record. The critic Northrop Frye once said that "the only crystal ball is a rearview mirror." It has to be a wide mirror so that all forms of past expression and creativity are encompassed. Measures must be taken to ensure that this record is preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. To achieve anything less diminishes the record we pass on to our children.

To develop a strategy to address the array of concerns associated with the preservation and safekeeping of cultural heritage assets, the Library of Congress has identified four interrelated components: physical security, bibliographic controls, inventory controls, and preservation.

Traditionally, when we thought of the security of our collections, we focused on physical security controls. In developing a comprehensive collections security program beginning in the 1990s, we realized we needed to integrate the other three components as well. But physical security remains key. We must first ensure the security of our facilities so that our staff, visitors, and collections are safe. The Library has developed a comprehensive program—accelerated in the last several years because of harrowing events on our shores and at the Capitol complex itself—to enhance our physical security.

For the other three components, the Library continues expanding its programs. In 1999, we successfully launched the Integrated Library System to enhance the Library's bibliographic and item—tracking controls. In the same year, our preservation program preserved close to 500,000 items, working in a number of areas, including mass deacidification, conservation treatment, microfilming, and binding. In addition, we are developing new state-of-the-art collection-storage facilities outside of Washington, D.C., that will protect books and audiovisual materials for future generations through carefully controlled environmental conditions. These measures will serve not only our mandate to preserve the Library's collections for use by Congress and the American people, but also colleagues in cultural institutions locally, nationally, and internationally as they, too, seek to preserve and protect cultural assets.

The papers presented in this volume focus on the intersection between preservation and security. We hope that these essays might shed light on how to build bridges between preservation and security in our various institutions, and help all of us join hands in working cooperatively to preserve the record of human knowledge and creativity

The Librarian of Congress

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