Guidelines for Preservation, Conservation, and Restoration of Local History and Local Genealogical Materials

Prepared by the Genealogy and Local History Committee of the History Section of the Reference and Adult Services Division of the American Library Association.
Reviewed by the ALA Standards Committee and adopted by the Reference and Adult Services Division Board of Directors, June 1992.

1.0  Introduction

Libraries have a responsibility to preserve, conserve, and, if possible, restore their local history and local genealogical materials. These guidelines address the preservation, conservation, and restoration of heavily used, fragile, and rare local history and local genealogical materials.

These guidelines are intended to assist libraries with preservation, conservation, and, when possible, restoration of their heavily used, fragile, and rare local history and local genealogical materials in printed, microform, machine-readable, audio, or video formats. Local history and local genealogical materials should include, but should not be limited to, city, county, and regional histories; biographical directories; cemetery and sextons' records; church records; family histories and genealogies; naturalization records; newspapers; census schedules; probate records; wills; tax lists; city and county directories; telephone directories; vital records; civil and criminal court records; land records; county atlases; county land ownership maps; fire insurance maps; and photographic prints and negatives.

The terms preservation, conservation, and restoration as used in these guidelines are the simple definitions used by Wesley L. Boomgaarden:

Preservation: ". . . action taken to anticipate, prevent, stop or retard deterioration. "

Conservation: the maintenance ol each item in the collection in a usable condition. "

Restoration: ". . . the act of returning the deteriorated item to its original or near-original condition." 1

Generally accepted methods of preservation, conservation, and restoration are described in the works cited in the references and bibliography of these guidelines.

2.0  Preservation

2.1    Assess Collection Preservation Needs

2.1.1    Evaluation of heavily used, fragile, and rare local history and local genealogical materials should be made to determine what materials need to be preserved.

2.1.2    Fragile materials are most often works printed on acidic paper and usually include most newspapers, city directories, telephone directories, and some books. 2 Damaged bindings with inside margins too narrow to rebind may also be considered fragile materials.

2.1.3    Rare local genealogy or local history materials are usually works of which a limited number of copies were printed and/or the monetary value has escalated since their publication. Most land ownership maps and manuscript copies of fire insurance maps fall into this category. 3

2.1.4    Photographic prints and negatives require special attention as they may be damaged by their emulsions, bases, mountings, display, or storage. 4

2.1.5    Materials in machine-readable, audio, or video formats require occasional use and need special care. 5

2.2    Develop a Preservation Plan

2.2.1    A priority list of heavily used, fragile, and rare local history and local genealogical materials should be prepared for materials in need of preservation. 6

2.2.2    In locales where more than one library may be collecting the same materials it is advisable to develop cooperative preservation programs. 7

2.2.3    Bibliographical searches should be made of sources and databases that include microforms: Guide to Microforms in Print, Register of Microform Masters, Out-of-Print Books: Author Guide (University Microfilms International), CICLC, WLN, RLIN, and other databases that include microforms. (Included in these sources are many opaque microforms such as microcard, microprint, and the ultra-microfiche collections that require special reading machines not available in all libraries.)

2.3    Choose Appropriate Preservation Techniques

2.3.1    Microduplication, either as microfilm or microfiche, generally is the least expensive method of preservation; however, the original may be damaged in microduplication. Firms that provide microduplication service are listed in the yellow pages of most telephone directories under "Microfilming Service, Equipment & Supplies." However, care should be taken to see that selected firms meet the quality control and standards of the industry. 8

2.3.2    Most photoduplication can be done by carefully trained library staff members and should be done on acid-free paper and bound in library Class A binding. 9

2.3.3    Electronic media reproduction may be useful and preferred for service copies of some materials.

2.3.4    Deacidification and/or encapsulation may be desirable for some materials. 10

2.3.5    Restoration, see "Restoration" below.

2.3.6    Duplication in microform or photoduplication and restoration may be possible in some cases and should be done when possible.

2.4     Obtain Copyright Clearance

2.4.1    Under most circumstances it is necessary to obtain copyright clearance in order to duplicate local history and local genealogical materials in any form for library use or preservation. Some authors of local history and local genealogical materials may be willing to provide copyright clearance for the preservation of their work(s).

2.4.2    Suggested provisions under which out-of-print materials may be photoduplicated without permission are provided in Mary Hutchings Reed's The Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators. 11

2.4.3    Legal advice should be sought when questions arise.

2.5     Funding

2.5.1    Libraries should establish adequate funding for preservation, conservation, and restoration.

2.5.2    Federal, state, and private grants are available for preservation, conservation, and restoration, particularly to libraries with long-range preservation, conservation, and restoration plans. Additional consideration should also be given to requesting grants from local businesses and industries.

3.0  Conservation

3.1    Procedures, Facilities, and Conditions

3.1.1 Every attempt should be made to follow sound procedures of conservation and provide adequate facilities and conditions (temperature control, humidity, security, fire protection, and instruction for staff and patrons concerning proper use and handling) for the conservation of local history and local genealogical collections. 12

3.2     Disaster Plan

3.2.1    Conservation of local history and genealogical materials should receive a high-priority rating in the library's disaster plan.


4.1     Pros and Cons

4.1.1    Restoration is the most expensive and in many cases the most desirable alternative, but no additional copies are created, thereby losing one of the desirable aspects of preservation.

4.2     Conservators

4.2.1    Consult the AIC Directory (Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1977/78- ) or contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1400 16th St. NW, Suite 340, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 232-6636 for the names of professional conservators in your locale.

4.2.2    Consult, evaluate, and screen (including letters of reference) conservators selected from the AIC Directory.


  1. Wesley L. Boomgaarden, "Preservation Planning for the Small Special Library," Special Libraries 76 (Summer 1985): 204–11.
  2. David Thackery and Edward Meachen, Local History in the Library: A Manualfor Assessment and Preservation (Bloomington, Ill.: Bloomington Public Library, 1989), 6–12.
  3. Ibid., 4–6.
  4. Ibid., 13–14, 18–19; Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, GeraldJ. Munoff, and Margery S. Long, Archives &Manuscripts: Administration of Photographic Collections (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1984); James M. Reilly, Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints (Rochester, N.Y.: Eastman Kodak Co., 1986); Sigfried Rempel, The Care of Photographs (New York: Nick Lyons Bks., 1987); Conservation of Photographs (Rochester, N.Y.: Eastman Kodak Co., 1985).
  5. Larry N. Osborne, "Those (In)destructible Disks; or, Another Myth Exploded," Library Hi Tech 7, no. 3 (1989): 7–10; Alan A. Ward, A Manual of Sound Archive Administration (Brookfield, Vt.: Gower Publishing Co., 1990); C. A. Paton "Whispers in the Stacks: The Problem of Sound Recordings in Archives," American Archivist 53 (Spring 1990): 274-80; James C. Scholtz, Developing and Maintaining Video Collections in Libraries (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1989); J.G. Empsucha, "Film and Videotape Preservation Fact-Sheet," in Footage89: North American Film and Video Sources (New York: Prelinger Associates, 1989), A28–A30; T. Conrad, "Old Open-Reel Videotape Restoration," in Footage 89: North American Film and Video Sources (New York: Prelinger Associates, 1989), A31–A32.
  6. Thackery and Meachen, 26–30.
  7. Ibid., 3, 21–22, 25–42.
  8. Preservation Microfilming: Planning &Production (Chicago: Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, ALA, 1989); Nancy E. Gwinn, ed. Preservation Microfilming: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists (Chicago: ALA, 1987); Steven L. Wood, "The Microfilm Service Bureau and Library Preservation," Microform Review 17 (Feb. 1988): 32–37; Sherry Byrne, "Guidelines for Contracting Microfilming Services," Microform Review 15 (Fall 1986): 253–64.
  9. Jan Merrill-Oldham and Paul Parisi, Guide to the Library Binding Institute Standardfor Library Binding (Chicago: ALA, 1990).
  10. Thackery and Meachen, 23.
  11. Mary Hutchings Reed, The Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators (Chicago: ALA and the National Education Association, 1987), 9–10, Q17, Q18, Q19.
  12. Thackery and Meachen, 15–20.
  13. John P. Barton and Johanna G. Wellheiser, eds. An Ounce of Prevention: A Handbook on Disaster Contingency Planningfor Archives, Libraries and Record Centers (Toronto: Toronto Area Archivists Group Education Foundation, 1985).


The following additional works concerning preservation, conservation, and restoration of materials are helpful:

Library Literature under the subject headings: "Floppy discs—Care and restoration, Local history and records—Care and restoration," "Preservation of library materials," "Recorded sound archives—Care and restoration," and "Video recordings—Care and restoration."

Preservation Guidelines in ARL Libraries. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies, 1987.

Darling, Pamela W., and Duane E. Webster. Preservation Planning Program: An Assisted Self-Study Manualfor Libraries. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies, 1987.

Darling, Pamela W., and Wesley L. Boomgaarden. Preservation Planning Program Resource Notebook. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Studies, 1987.

RLG Preservation Manual. 2d ed. Stanford, Calif.: Research Libraries Group, 1986- .

Morrow, Carolyn Clark, and Carole Dyal. Conservation Treatment Procedures: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Maintenance and Repair of Library Materials. 2d ed. Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1986.

Gunner, Jean. Simple Repair and Preservation Techniques for Collection Curators, Librarians, andArchivists. 3d ed. Pittsburgh, Penn.: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, 1984.