Sustainable Preservation Programs: e-Forum Summary

The ALCTS e-Forum “Sustainable Preservation Programs” was held on April 22 and 23, 2015 and hosted by Peter Verheyen, Melissa Tedone, and Whitney Baker. An archive of the conversation can be found here.  

The discussion was opened with a series of questions:

  • What is the scope of your preservation activities?
  • How have these been impacted in recent years?
  • What have been your coping strategies?
  • What have you tried to fill shortfalls and what was the impact?
  • What have been your successes?
  • How are you raising awareness of preservation issues both within your institution and with the greater public?
  • How are we recycling and reusing lab materials, and what workflow changes go with this?

Participants expressed concerns about the need to make preservation decisions much earlier in an item’s lifecycle. Whereas with paper-based materials we know how long items should last under normal conditions, magnetic media (e.g., VHS and audio tape), CDs, DVDs, and born digital items are still moving targets where not only the physical media is a concern, but also the obsolescence and disappearance of support for the hardware and software required to play and view. Preservation programs need to be involved in drafting policies to govern these materials, sometimes before we know how established the format or media will become.  Participants also discussed preservation issues surrounding licensed e-content, preservation initiatives such as LOCKSS/CLOCKSS and Portico, and whether we have the rights to preserve these materials. One approach is to ingest media into a repository in a preservation format upon accession so that decisions can be made later. However this requires clear policies and agreements so that all parties know the risks and liabilities.

Paper-based collections continue to remain a concern, especially on a collections level and "at scale." One approach for doing this is the use of shared print repositories, multi-institutional high-density storage facilities with shared collection development policies to focus on strengths and avoid duplication of effort. In this approach, duplicates from different libraries would be compared for condition with the best retained, others being withdrawn (or perhaps staying at the holding library). Participants in a such shared print repositories would need to agree on criteria for quality control. In the end, this would reduce the number of copies to be preserved and would give those ingested into the facility optimal storage conditions.

Another trend identified by participants is the continued decline in the number of complex (invasive) treatments with a greater focus on other options such as rehousing. A benefit of this could also be a greater degree of authenticity (as much evidence can be lost in the course of treatment) for the preserved item. Issues of authenticity are also critical in digitization as the digital object represent the original.

Participants noted the importance of outreach and other efforts to sustain the visibility of preservation and demonstrate its value. One method of meeting this need is to ensure representation of preservation activities in consortial committees.

Finally, there was a discussion of descriptive cataloging and metadata practices, in particular in support of digitization and related projects. These activities ranged from original MARC cataloging to Resource, Description and Access, Encoded Archival Description, and other forms of encoding and markup to provide metadata for digitized objects from the collections. This was especially important and intensive for audio-visual materials that cannot be otherwise viewed or flipped through and must be transferred (digitized) for viewing and describing.

Submitted by Peter Verheyen, Melissa Tedone, and Whitney Baker