At the Preservation Advisory Centre, our work focuses on providing support and services that ensure continuity of access to library and archive collections. We define preservation very broadly – all the activities which go towards ensuring long-term access to collections and content.
We have recently published our own report, Knowing the Need which is available online at this link, www.bl.uk/blpac/ktn.html Over the next 10 minutes I’m going to highlight the key findings of Knowing the Need and how they relate to the issues raised in the Archives at Risk report. Knowing the Need is an aggregation of information on the preservation needs of physical library and archive collections. This report represents the second aggregation of data, covering the period 2006-2011. (The first was published in 2006, including data between 2000 and 2005.) The information on preservation needs is collected using the Preservation Assessment Survey, a tool which was developed in the late 1990s initially as a result of a British Library research grant and subsequently by the National Preservation Office (our predecessor body) with input from TNA (PRO)
At that time there was an ambition to create a national preservation strategy, and a tool for collecting evidence of preservation need was seen as an essential component of that work. Important attributes of the Preservation Assessment Survey which underpin this work are: It provides a common methodology for the collection of information about preservation needs. Because information is collected in the same way, it can be compared. Because information is collected in the same way, it can be aggregated. Individual organisations can used the aggregated results to ‘benchmark’ their own situation against wider practice. Through aggregation, trends in needs (or common needs) can be identified. The results can be used for collective advocacy.
As a result of the Knowing the Need project we have a wealth of information about how library and archive collections are used, valued and what condition they are in, but for today’s purposes I’m focusing on what we found in terms of the preservation measures in place. In this graph you can see that there are strengths in handling, security and fire protection; but weaknesses in storage, environmental management and emergency control planning. This resonates strongly with the findings of the Archives at Risk report.
Although the two sets of data are not strictly comparable, it is interesting to look at how the Knowing the Need results for 2006 compare with the more recent findings. In all areas of preservation practice, the collective results from 2012 show better practice than the collective results from 2006. But you can see that the three areas I identified as weak in the previous slide, were also the three areas of common weakness in 2006. So what does this mean in terms of preservation strategy? Why are these issues consistently difficult to address? Do we not have the right tools or knowledge to address them, or are we not using the right tools/knowledge in the right way? We probed the results in more detail to find out what exactly was proving consistently challenging in the three areas of common weakness.
We found that housekeeping and cleaning was a challenge, as was finding adequate storage for over-sized material (particularly for archives) We found that while environmental monitoring had improved, it was still proving difficult for organisations to meet the parameters set out in BS5454 (this data of course having been collected prior to the introduction of PD5454). And we found that, although emergency plans are now more commonly in place, the staff responsible for using them are often not trained on their implementation – so in effect, a paper exercise only. I do agree with the Archives at Risk report that gaps in skills and knowledge are part of this problem. And indeed we have used our findings from Knowing the Need to establish the programme of 20 or so workshops that we now run through the year; it is also behind the topics covered in our series of free guidance booklets. I think gaps in skills and knowledge is a particular issue at the moment because of the rate of staff turnover – capacity becomes an issue not only in numbers of staff, but also in terms of knowledge and institutional knowledge, and then there is also the other major resource, money.
In the context of the Knowing the Need report this diminished capacity led me to question how we could achieve reasonable standards of preservation practice with increasingly limited resources – hence the subtitle of the report ‘optimising preservation for library and archive collections’. You can read the detail online, but fundamentally (and I’m being a pragmatist not defeatist here) I believe that we don’t have the luxury to apply preservation ‘best practice’ across the board. Furthermore, at the risk of being more controversial, I don’t think we need to do the same things across the board. What we do need to do is think about how we can achieve maximum impact from the things that we are able to do and make sure we have the right evidence available to prioritise actions and support cost-effective decisions. For instance – we could use the condition & usability of collections as a basis for prioritisation. These two graphs…
… and these two, show that there is little difference in storage, environmental practice, boxing or handling in relation to the physical condition of items.
To take things a step further, this graph shows demand in relation to the condition/usability of items. At the outset I mentioned that these survey results represent an estimated total collection in excess of 50 million items – that’s a massive number. But if we choose condition/usability (i.e. how vulnerable an item is to continued use) as the criterion for prioritising action, and we know that 2% of items in an ‘unusable’ condition, and of that 2%, 4% are in high demand – the number of items to prioritise for action becomes around 40,000. Still a big number, admittedly – but much smaller, and theoretically more manageable, than 50 million.
To be able to target resources in this way, and to apply our preservation strategies and knowledge in the most effective way, we do need to know the collections. For this reason I am extremely interested in the findings of the BRA report. I think the timing is excellent with respect to the work that the archive sector has been doing on the co-creation of the archive accreditation standard. And I would certainly agree that collaboration between organisations is an effective way of maximising resources to address common issues.
The areas that I am particularly interested in, in terms of the preservation of physical collections, are these. I think that we can work together so that in five years time we can see considerable improvements in all these areas. What are we doing at the Preservation Advisory Centre? Some of the immediate, and practical, support we have in place includes: Our training programme (we have a session on dust & dirt on 11 th June, salvage on 18 th June, and environment on 4 th July). We’re looking at the feasibility of creating a free webinar on emergency planning. And of course we are very open to working with others, particularly on advocacy issues – indeed working with BRA to put on this event is an example of that.
Preservation strategies web
Preservation strategiesArchives at risk seminar, 8 May 2013Caroline Peach, Head of Preservation Advisory CentreTwitter: @BL_PAC #blpac
2Knowing the Need State of preservation, 2006-2011 86 Preservation Assessment Surveys 30 library collections; 56 archivecollections 35,216 items surveyed Representative of circa 50 millionitems www.bl.uk/blpac/ktn.html
3Preservation Assessment Survey Tool to generate an overview of preservation needs, running since2000 www.bl.uk/blpac/paslib.html Assesses: access & use, significance, preservation measures,condition & usability, and damage Key attributes: Standard tool Generates comparable results Results can be aggregated Individual benchmarking against aggregated results Trends can be identified Results can be used for collective advocacy
52006…to…20120204060801002006 2012 2006 2012 2006 2012 2006 2012 2006 2012 2006 2012Storage Environment Security Fire protection EmergencycontrolHandlingInadequate practiceAdequate practice
6Summary of needs There are cataloguing backlogs to be addressed and there is a need for greateronline access to catalogues Improvements in collection storage are required Absence of regular housekeeping / cleaning programmes Challenges in storing over-sized material Improvements in environmental management are required Environmental monitoring is now more widespread, but controlling theenvironment to recognised guidelines is difficult to achieve (historicallyBS5454) Improvements in emergency control planning are required Emergency plans are more widespread, but frequently staff are not trainedin their implementation compromising the effectiveness of the plan
10Optimising preservation Goal of preservation is long-term use and re-use of collectionsKnow your collections Understand the materials, their vulnerability and their tolerances Understand demand levels, current and future Understand the existing condition & usability of collections
11Weaknesses in preservation practice in the areas ofstorage, environmental practice and emergencycontrol planning should be addressed Maintain routine preservation housekeeping activity. Improve environmental management strategies and theirapplication. Target improvements and aim for greater energyefficiency. Review emergency control plans regularly and provide trainingand support for staff involved in their implementation.