Low-Cost Preservation Measures for you to Employ Today

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Submitted by Patricia Turpening, Head,

Preservation and Archives, University of Cincinnati Law Library

I was asked to write this article after Sally Holterhoff heard me speak at the ORALL Annual Meeting last October. I have been an academic law librarian for many years and I am very pleased to have this opportunity to write about a subject which is near and dear to my heart. As a brief introduction, I have been involved in library preservation since the early 1980s. The subject was never broached during my time in library school (I graduated in 1978), but I gradually became aware of what was then the "hot topic" by attending meetings in the Cincinnati area. What I learned was basically the product of self-education, much as many of you have taught yourselves about various subjects. I asked our library director at the time about setting up a book repair area, buying books on preservation and buying the hundreds of bookends we needed in our new building. I was given permission for all of it, and, later, a new position was created for me, Head of Preservation and Archives, which I have held since 1988.

Over the years I have not only served on and chaired preservation committees but I founded the first committee within AALL to address preservation issues. That occurred in 1983, and it was the Preservation Committee in the Technical Services Special Interest Section. That committee as well as the Special Committee on Preservation Needs of Law Libraries conducted surveys of law librarians to find out what was being done to preserve law books. The surveys were admirable efforts, but limited in the effect they had, because of the lack of follow-up with the librarians. In order to rectify that deficiency, I applied for, and received, an academic leave from the University of Cincinnati. During 2000-2001, I personally visited 30 law libraries in the Midwest, to conduct a survey of the libraries, conduct workshops, and to make recommendations to them. I have written about the sabbatical in the ORALL Newsletter and an article will appear in the Spring or Summer 2002 Law Library Journal (this article does not duplicate either of those). In addition, I will be speaking at a program next summer in Orlando along with a librarian I met on my sabbatical. I went to all types of law libraries, but the majority were academics. The reasons should be obvious - the largest law libraries are academics and they have a reputation as the libraries of last resort by librarians in other types of law libraries. By that I mean that it is frequently assumed that academic law libraries will purchase, retain, and preserve their volumes after others have found it necessary to dispose of them because of a lack of space or for other reasons.

I cannot stress how important the personal visits were in learning about the libraries' policies and habits regarding the care of their materials. There is no substitute for walking through the stacks, observing whether sunlight is shining directly on the books, whether the books are crowded or leaning, have an abundance of sticky tape on their spines, are housed in acid-free boxes or other types of housing, what types of bookends are used and whether or not they are effective, if there are any oversize books shelved spine-up, if there are enough stepstools for patrons and staff to reach the highest shelves, if the books are generally well-cared for or if their spines are torn, and if the books are close to the ceiling and light fixtures.

I was warmly welcomed at each of the libraries, with several even providing breakfast or lunch buffets. In addition to talking to the director or designated staff person to conduct the survey, I conducted workshops at eighteen of the libraries, reaching a total of 133 people. In the workshops, I started by talking about preservation in general, then I talked about the problems in some books I had pulled from the libraries' own shelves. At a couple of libraries, I found books with heavy layers of dust, and I also talked about books damaged by being forced into too-small spaces or by leaning at an angle for long periods of time, options to deal with torn headcaps and paper covers as well as the more problematic older books with brittle paper and inadequate bindings which need to be retained in hardcover. Some options for those are purchasing reprints, if available, enclosing each book in a phase box, or moving them to offsite storage to limit handling.

Following the visits, I sent a personal letter to each library, detailing areas I had observed which needed improvement as well as areas they had identified themselves as in need of attention. For instance, if a library did not have a disaster plan, I gave them websites which contain forms to use in developing such a plan. (By the way, the SOLINET website [www.solinet.net] is especially useful for this.) Not only did I recommend that a library use phase boxes, but I told them where the boxes can be purchased. Quite a few of the libraries said they wanted to write a long-range preservation plan. For those, I sent cites for two titles useful for that endeavor.

I also set up a listserv for the librarians to communicate with me and with each other about preservation issues and concerns. Anyone reading this is invited to join the list. At the website for the listserv, I have created an extensive list of "bookmarks", which includes groups such as the Association for Research Libraries, the Library Binding Institute, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, University Products, and the Council for Library and Information Resources. The individual websites for the groups can serve as a tremendous resource in learning about or refreshing knowledge about preservation. Go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lawlibrarypres, and log in in order to view the "bookmarks" and be included in the listserv. Please take a look, and send me your comments!

These are some low-cost or no-cost ways to preserve the newer and older volumes in your own libraries:

Close all window blinds at least partway where sunlight shines on books, since damage from light is cumulative and irreversible. I witnessed dramatic fading of spines in a library where a large range was next to a 2-story window.

Designate one staff person to be in charge of stacks maintenance. Make sure that person understands the importance of the charge. Poor shelving practices can definitely contribute to the deterioration of volumes. In addition to points already mentioned, care should be taken concerning loose-leaf binders. Because of their odd sizes and their bulk, the books beside them can be damaged easily. If possible, the binders should be isolated and the books should be placed behind bookends. Especially vulnerable are pamphlets and paperbacks. Watch out for binders on the highest shelves. Because they are the hardest to reach, they lean over onto adjacent books and sometimes push bookends to the end of the shelf, before anyone notices or finds a stepstool to rectify the situation.

Write or update a contract with your commercial binder, if that is not already done regularly. Some libraries have informal agreements with their binders, but it is very important that the types of materials and leaf attachment methods used are within the latest standard (2000) from the Library Binding Institute/National Institute of Standards Organization. The standard is downloadable at www.niso.org.

Remember that all book repair must be reversible, unless you know that the books will definitely be superseded in a short period of time, less than 2 years. If there is a possibility that they may be retained longer because of changes in the collection development policy or faculty/attorney request, it's better to use reversible methods. That means no Scotch tape or other regular sticky tape. Only archival tapes should be used. One academic library I visited thought they were improving the appearance of torn spines by using sticky tape. However, those "improvements" were only temporary, since the tape has yellowed, is brittle, and either cannot be removed or it falls off easily and leaves a residue. Two companies which offer archival-quality supplies are University Products (www.universityproducts.com) and Gaylord (www.gaylord.com).

Take care with microforms. Fiche should be well supported but not squeezed together tightly. Once the fiche becomes distorted, it can be difficult to use. Dividers should be of acid-free materials.

Set up a schedule to dust all books and keep careful track of what was dusted when. Use One-Wipe dust cloths or Dust Bunny cloths since they are specially treated. Also dust empty shelves. Layers of dust form a water-absorbing blanket around the books and accelerate deterioration. A goal may be to dust the entire collection every five years.

In addition to the listserv and website already mentioned, I have copies of the 4-page handout from my presentation at the ORALL Annual Meeting. It includes 27 print resources and several recommendations for starting or expanding an in-house preservation program. I will mail it to anyone who requests a copy.

Determining policy, locating training workshops and incorporating book-friendly methods throughout the library, though worthy endeavors, do take time. I encourage librarians to take all of those actions, but, in the meantime, it is possible to take some relatively minor steps which will have a positive effect to help your print and non-print materials be useful as long as possible.