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  The Library of Congress >> To Preserve and Protect

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Preservation Strategies in Context

7. Safeguarding Heritage AssetsThe Library of Congress Planning Framework for Preservation
Doris A. Hamburg

A corollary goal of acquiring most cultural collections is preserving them for the future, The long-term safeguarding of the collections, or heritage assets, is most effectively accomplished through a comprehensive, systematic approach. Toward this end, the Library of Congress has identified four critical control areas—preservation, physical security bibliographic control, and inventory control—that affect the long-term survival of the collections. Omitting or minimizing any one of these controls from the Library's activities leaves it vulnerable in meeting the needs of future users. Whereas these control areas have traditionally operated independently, overlapping concerns and approaches and the benefits of working in a more integrated manner have become clearer in the past several years as a result of developing an assessment program in each of these four areas.

This paper addresses the preservation framework being used to analyze and address the Library of Congress needs in meeting the minimum standards for safeguarding its collections from the preservation perspective, outlining the goals, methodology, and conclusions related to a preservation assessment process developed for the broad range of Library of Congress collections. Begun in 1999, the assessment process is ongoing, as new collection preservation needs are identified and others are addressed.

A difficult yet critical decision in developing the Library of Congress assessments for safeguarding its heritage assets was to acknowledge and integrate the concept that all collections are not equal. Collections and items vary with regard to intrinsic value, research value, and replacement potential. For example, Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence is unique, priceless, and can never be replaced. The need to minimize any risks to this document is far greater than for a newly published book, which can easily be replaced in case of damage or loss. These risks apply to preservation, physical security, bibliographic control, and inventory control. In light of these considerations, the Library of Congress outlined five categories of value or risk in its 1997 Library of Congress Security Plan. The five levels of risk, named for metals, together form a continuum, allowing for a range of values within each category. Platinum is used to designate the irreplaceable items of the highest intrinsic value, such as the Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence or Abraham Lincoln's holograph copy of the Gettysburg Address. Gold items are those found in special collections and have high market value and significant cultural, historical, or artifactual importance. Silver is the designation for collections that are at increased risk for loss because of theft, such as compact discs, comic books, videos, or training manuals or that are items that require special handling because of their condition, such as a very brittle newspapers. Bronze collections are served without special restrictions in the Library's reading rooms. They are identified as having relatively little or no artifactual value, and generally are replaceable. These materials may be loaned without stringent restrictions And, finally, copper materials are those that the Library of Congress holds temporarily and that will not be retained over time. Using such value terminology—"gold," "silver," and so on—which is understood at all levels of the institution by staff who do or do not work with collection items, has helped to clarify discussion and identify collection needs.

Each custodial or processing division assigns the value category for each item or collection. Categorizing collections according to value is not a simple or absolute process; the methodology for doing so varies according to the type and use of the collection and in some cases according to the context of items relative to a larger group of materials held in a particular unit. Over time, one can expect that designations could change. For example, a general collection book (bronze) may become rare (gold).

In 1998, the Library established the Preservation Heritage Assets Working Group (PHAWG) to develop a preservation framework, following on the physical security framework in the 1997 Security Plan. [1] At first, the PHAWG was not certain that the framework model developed in the Security Plan to assess physical security needs would be appropriate also for preservation. Yet, upon analysis it seemed logical to build on the physical security control model, for the sake of simplicity, efficiency, feasibility, and ease of use by others already familiar with the physical security controls framework. The frameworks differ, however, in that the physical security framework includes specific actions to be taken (installation of a camera, a lock, and so on), whereas the preservation framework is broader in articulating the control measures. The preservation framework articulates an ongoing preservation effort that will never be completely finished because of the tremendous preservation needs of the collections and because of changes in the condition of objects over time.

The preservation framework formulates a comprehensive plan of minimum standards for preservation of collection materials at the Library of Congress. The framework offers an opportunity to evaluate the state of preservation throughout the Library using a Library-wide preservation assessment tool, equipped to address the range of ways that different Library custodial and processing divisions use and store their collections. Further, it fosters the integration of preservation into the broad range of activities affecting Library of Congress collections, such as acquisitions, cataloging, curatorial research, loans, use by researchers, and exhibitions.

As items or collections come into the Library, they are initially processed for bibliographic control; they may be placed in good-quality storage enclosures or conserved to provide appropriate protection for the future, This period in the life of a collection item is called the processing cycle. The items then go into the storage cycle, which becomes the long-term custodial location. Items can move in and out of the storage cycle by being moved (transit cycle) to a reading room, placed on loan, or made available for staff or researcher use (use cycle). Occasionally, an item will go on exhibition (exhibit cycle), which requires certain control measures that differ from normal use. The length of time an item is in a particular cycle varies according to the specific situation, ranging from minutes to years.

In developing the preservation control measures for each cycle and at each risk level, the most critical component was to ascertain the minimum standard needed to ensure preservation. More than the minimum can be done if desired. Minimum standards are key in developing a realistic assessment and in maintaining credibility with stakeholders and funders, who must prioritize limited resources and trust that the funds are used efficiently and effectively.

The Library's preservation framework outlines seven broad control areas, followed by specific control measure within those areas. The seven primary areas consist of environment, emergency preparedness, storage, handling, needs assessment, physical treatment, and reformatting. The preservation control measures outline the key elements in a comprehensive preservation plan for Library collections. The control measures are accompanied by a set of definitions to ensure a universal understanding of each element. Clearly articulated specifications noted in each area facilitate communication of what is needed. For example, for a platinum item, the minimum standard for a control measure might be more stringent than for a bronze item. The plan articulates the more specific needs of each control measure as it applies to a specific value. In regulating environment, for example, tight environmental controls (Level 3, defined as "environment is controllable within tight tolerances required by special sensitive materials") apply to platinum collections. Moderate controls (Level 2, defined as "environment is controllable and generally meets specifications") are the minimum standard for gold, silver, and bronze collections. Minimal controls (Level 1, defined as "environment is controllable to a limited extent and does not generally meet specifications") apply to copper collections. Other control measures may require no differentiation according to value. For instance, the need for the development of environmental specifications exists for all collections, even if the specification is different for each value level. These are expressed on grids, easily read and understood. [2]

The control measures are preservation actions undertaken by facilities staff, librarians, readers, preservation staff, curators, and others. They indicate an approach that confirms that preservation of the collections is a collaborative effort, not limited to the staff of the Preservation Directorate. This framework emphasizes a preventive approach that involves the full range of considerations in preserving cultural collections.

For example, the way that a librarian or technician handles a book while it is being cataloged or brought to a reader for use can significantly affect the preservation of the book. Verification that maintenance is being done on the building and that appropriate levels of temperature and relative humidity are provided is important. Preventive preservation is the most cost-effective method for retaining collections over time. Once damage has occurred, it may not be fully reversible, even with the best conservation treatment. Conservation treatment is an important program element, but it is not the only one. Existing conservation treatment needs far exceed available resources to address conservation. The backlog of work needing to be done is significant. Priorities must be established. Preventing damage is by far the most logical approach for retaining collections over time.

The preservation control measures are not applicable to each cycle. Some controls, for instance, environment, apply to all cycles. Others apply as needed. As we developed our preservation framework, we decided that when an item goes for preservation treatment, it would be considered as being in the processing cycle. Therefore, most control measures apply to the processing cycle. In the storage, use, transit, and exhibit cycles, we have fewer control measures. In our preservation security framework, we created a separate grid with the relevant control measures for each of the five cycles.

Once we had developed our grids and established the minimum standards for each risk category and each cycle, we visited the custodial and processing divisions to assess the status of their preservation controls. We recognized that collaboration is crucial to our plan. With assistance from preservation staff, each division evaluated the status of preservation for each control measure. Reevaluation of the plan on a periodic basis for each division will be required. The process has been educational for all who participated and is seen as a positive tool, drawing attention to problem preservation areas and previously unidentified concerns.

Preservation staff members learned from each division about collection use, value, and preservation needs. The assessment process has created a broader understanding among librarians of the elements involved in preserving the collections. To achieve this, a grid identifying each control measure was marked in terms of each control element's completion status: C: Completed; P: Partially completed; U: Unmet; H: In-House (with existing funds from within the unit); F: Funded; and NA: Not Applicable. The evaluation was generally broad, because the assessment focused on collections rather than individual items. A future project will be to return to specific collections within a division to identify their unmet control measures.

The development of the physical security, preservation, bibliographic, and inventory frameworks has led to increased integration of effort and understanding of the interrelated goals of these four areas in safeguarding the Library's assets. For example, as we surveyed the collections for physical security needs, we were able to clarify the requirement for enhanced or new vault spaces. Preservation teamed up with security staff to have some of the vaults built with an environmental component, so that the vault would provide temperatures at a set point in the fifty-to-fifty-five-degree Fahrenheit range. Reducing the storage environment temperature from the average room temperature of about seventy-two degrees to fifty degrees can extend the life expectancy of the collections from as much as fivefold to sixfold. For the transit cycle, the development of new book carts addressed both preservation and physical security concerns. Integrating the physical security and preservation elements yields cost benefits, when managers collaborate to solve overlapping concerns.

In our assessment for each control measure in the five cycles, we built a database that has proved invaluable. The data base, using Microsoft ACCESS TM, helps us manage, use, maintain, and update the data. The database allows us to perform statistical calculations and analysis of the data for all the divisions involved, so that we can review and discuss the information obtained. The Library has made its statistical reports available by value category (platinum, gold, and so on); cycle (such as process, use, or transit); division; completion status (control measures completed, unmet, and so on); and individual preservation control measure element (environment, emergency preparedness, and the rest). Reports can be generated across divisions or for one division only. The database provides an assessment for a particular control measure across all divisions, giving us a focus for shared problems and successes. We can group issues where there are shared problems, which facilitates collaborative solutions, reducing costs over the long term.

The preservation assessment framework has yielded a number of benefits. Standardization of terms enhances communication in the pursuit of safeguarding heritage assets. Assessment and analysis articulate a long-term preservation picture for the institution. By quantifying the preservation status and needs of the Library's collections, we can develop a plan for action. Through periodic reassessment, we can track and demonstrate progress in a quantifiable manner. The Library will work toward grouping similar preservation projects across the institution to enhance efficiency and reduce costs.

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