LES Statement on Primary Materials

The Literatures in English Section (LES) of the Association of College and Research Libraries supports the efforts of the Modern Language Association and, more recently, the ARL-MLA Joint Working Group in drawing attention to the issues surrounding the preservation of print materials in their original formats in the nations libraries.

Historically the survival of the print record has been threatened from forces as varied as manufacturing processes, publishing practices, environmental conditions, space limitations and deaccessioning practices, and microfilming programs. The impressive capabilities of computer technology, combined with the widespread perception that digital images can serve as surrogates for materials in their original formats, now pose a new threat to the preservation of primary materials within our libraries. While digitization offers enhanced capability for the manipulation of texts, it has not yet been proven an effective long-term preservation strategy. In addition, digitized and microform images of texts cannot fully convey the range of information preserved in actual artifacts themselves, and, therefore, are not appropriate replacements for the primary record in all circumstances.

The MLA Statement on the Significance of the Primary Record is a valuable document in that it makes unequivocally clear the importance of primary materials in their original formats for a host of research purposes including, but not limited to, printing and publishing history, textual criticism, reader response studies, and reception studies.

As librarians responsible for literature in English collections in the nation's college and research libraries, we share the MLA's concern and we support their effort to educate the academic community and the public alike about the importance of preserving primary materials. We also understand the many costs of preserving growing library collections (including the costs of buildings and facilities, staff processing time, and preservation efforts) and the necessity for clearly defined institutional priorities in managing our library's collections. The preservation of the print record is beyond the scope of any single institution; therefore we recognize the necessity for cooperative collecting with other institutions. Establishing priorities-in consultation with faculty and library colleagues in our own and other area institutions--is one of the professional librarian's primary duties and responsibilities.

We strongly support the educational efforts of the MLA and the Task Force, and believe that only by wide-spread understanding of research practices can the library community and the public at large act in concert to preserve the historical legacy that falls within our care. LES will develop educational programs and carry on continuing discussion about ways to educate users, administrators, and institutions about the need to preserve primary records.

Ad-Hoc Committee on the MLA Statement on Primary Materials
Literature in English Section, ACRL
July 1997

Comments may be directed to the LES Website Editor, Steven D. Shelton

Special thanks to Jackie Hackman for designing the LES logo.

Last updated: February 15, 2018