Contents - Previous - Next

3. The essentials for long range conservation programs

Conservation must be a continuum of actions by the entire staff every day of the year. It is a three-fold responsibility requiring (a) prevention of damage by controlling the environment, good housekeeping, improving storage and handling, and enhancing security (b) basic in-house treatment of bound and unbound records with simple repair requirements and (c) sophisticated professional care for seriously damaged materials. Of the three the first is by far the most important because it benefits collections as a whole and is the most cost effective. Prevention must be the basis of any conservation management program regardless of its scope or the size of the establishment.

3.1 Preventive conservation.

Preventive conservation is many things. It includes providing housing for collections in accordance with their conservation needs as well as rapid accessibility; providing appropriate security; instructions for staff and users in regard to safe handling of materials; and periodic inspections of the collections so that the need for repair and restoration is promptly recognized. More and more librarians and archivists now accept the fact that it is far more sensible to invest in climate control, control of light, good housekeeping and storage, fire protection and security from theft and vandalism than to ignore those matters and pay far more in the future for the care of needlessly damaged records.

Preventive conservation is essentially common sense. Some preventive measures, such as close, positive, day-and-night, year round, climate control, are costly. Some (good housekeeping and storage, control of light, fire prevention) are not. Costs for protection from theft and vandalism vary greatly depending on conditions in the establishment, but any institution's prevention efforts, great or small, must be based on a good understanding of the nature of library and archival materials; the effect of the surroundings on them; and the ability to recognize the treatment requirements as they develop.

Conservators can provide helpful information on the condition of selected items, or the condition of collections in their entirety, but conservation management requires more than that special technical expertise. A conservation program must reflect the legal, aesthetic, humanistic and historic ramifications in connection with records, and incorporate the librarian's or archivist's knowledge of the expected use (and for libraries the availability elsewhere) of the materials, and the advisability of converting the information from one format to another.

Eighty percent of the treatment required for damaged materials consists of minor repairs that often can and should be done in-house. If none of the library or archives staff, or the available volunteers, have the skills necessary for simple book and paper repair then that work will have to be done outside if such services are available. The responsibility of custodians is to know what can properly be done on the premises and what should never be done by anyone other than professional bookbinders and conservators.

The repair and restoration of damaged rare and valuable books, and extra important documents, maps, prints and broadsides, should be done by professional bookbinders and conservators, because they only have the training and experience, scientific apparatus, tools and equipment necessary for that sophisticated work.

Contents - Previous - Next