This week is Preservation Week (ALA linked first, SAA here), an event sponsored by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and The Society of American Archivists. I see preservation of materials, especially those of historic and literary value, as needing to be preserved. Thus, to me this is an important week.
Before I get into the depth of my post, which will be a story, here’s a bit on the history of Preservation Week from ALA’s website:
Preservation Week was created in 2010 because some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all. Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan. As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike. Personal, family, and community collections are equally at risk. (source)
To this end, I have worked on preservation projects in the past (one mentioned in this series of posts from 2012), mostly when I was a volunteer and intern at my state’s historical society. I loved it and would someday like to return to that work of processing and preserving collections. I also truly enjoyed the bit of archival conservation work I did.
Perhaps the story I am about to tell will best demonstrate why preservation is important.
Imagine it’s 2114. Things have gone mostly digital, however there are still too many paper-based objects to have scanned everything. Plus many smaller archives and historical societies still lack the funding to carry out these projects. Recall that tree-based paper is highly acidic compared to the pre mid-1800s linen-based paper. Items from the mid-to-late 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s, unless specially made with acid-free, ligin-free paper, are rapidly deteriorating. It is more likely a letter written during the Revolutionary War is in better physical shape than one written during World War II. Or that a book printed within a decade of the printing press’ invention is more physically stable than a Hemingway first edition.
Now imagine you are a researcher. Perhaps it is for a class project or PhD dissertation. Or maybe its genealogical research. You have searched everywhere online. Every conceivable website and probably database or digital repository. You realize the information you need may not be scanned and try to contact libraries, archives, or historical societies that might have physical copies of what you need. Then you find a place that claims to have a relevant collection and you arrange a research trip.
You arrive at the facility. The staff are nice and helpful. Someone brings folders from the needed collection to your table for you to examine. You open the folder. It looks like it has been seldom touched in over a hundred years. Rusty staples and paperclips are keeping papers together. No preservation copies have been made on acid-free, ligin-free paper, such as Permalife. Nothing has been encased or placed in photo/document sleeves. Even the folders shows signs of acid contamination from their long use. You reach down to pick up the top document, a letter written circa 1920, and it crumbles from your touch. Valuable historical evidence has been destroyed because of its lack of preservation care.
How would you feel if this happened to you? Would you like to see history disappear before our very eyes? Would you not prefer that this evidence is made available for future generations? That is why preserving the evidence now is important. And it doesn’t matter if that evidence is books, photographic material, archival documents, or audiovisual material. It needs to be preserved both in its original state, if possible, while digital copies are made for access. And it doesn’t matter if this information is held by an institution or individuals; it still needs to be preserved.
Now let me refer back to some posts I did for and around Preservation Week last year or that were done before or since that remain relevant.
In “A Digital-Age New Year’s Resolution” I discussed the need for preserving digital materials. This included the best file types and changing the storage medium as technology evolves.
In “Caring for You Photographs” I wrote about the various ways to store and label photographs. I even wrote about my method of creating homemade photo sleeves from scrapbook page sleeve. The following week’s post, “More on Photo and Digital Preservation,” I added information to both the “Photographs” and “Resolution” posts based on last year’s Preservation Week webinars.
Lastly, in my two posts (“A Treasure Trove of a Find” and “Preserving the Treasure Trove“) on the now-on-hiatus project of preserving my great-grandmother’s photographs and letters, I wrote about the steps I took to preserve the collection. Most can be done by anyone. And for the record, I still need to find time to digitize these items!
Please consider looking at the above mentioned posts and enacting some, if not all, of the mentioned preservation steps with your family collections. If you work for a small, underfunded institution, consider looking as well. I made modifications to traditional archival methods that save cost without cutting preservation corners.
Do you now understand the need for preserving items of historic and literary value? Do you have any questions on preservation?