Understanding the Physical Environment
Library Seeks to Build Consensus On Preservation in 21st Century
(This is a reprint of an article by Karen Motylewski, Preservation Directorate, that first appeared in The Gazette, an internal publication of the Library of Congress, October 29, 2010.)
The Library of Congress celebrated 25 years of research by the Image Permanence Institute and the Library's 13-year collaboration with that organization on Oct. 20, with the first program in a series of special symposia exploring preservation road maps past, present and future.
The event drew 150 participants to the Jefferson Building, and 50 more from New Zealand, Germany and across the United States took part remotely via a real-time online webinar.
Dianne van der Reyden, director of the Library Services Preservation Directorate, highlighted collaboration with the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for the series.
"The Library and CLIR have been complementary leaders since the mid-1980s. … CLIR works from the perspective of libraries at large, and the Library serves Congress, the library world and the public through its collections and services," she said.
These symposia bring together two essential library leaders to explore how preservation helps the complementary use of legacy collections, digital resources and humanities research to deepen our knowledge of our cultural heritage.
Dr. Deanna Marcum, as a former head of CLIR and now the head of Library Services, steadily encouraged preservation research. In opening the symposium, van der Reyden quoted Marcum's conviction that "the best preservation principles rest on a solid foundation of science."
Dr. Charles Henry, executive director of CLIR, shared his enthusiasm for the symposium series and announced that his organization would award a special Mellon Fellowship for Dissertation Research in Original Sources to work with the Library's collections and its Preservation Research and Testing Division.
The highly competitive fellowship, he said, will support a junior scholar to use these Library resources to "gain skill and creativity in developing knowledge from original sources … encourage more extensive and innovative uses of original sources … and provide insight from the viewpoint of doctoral candidates into how scholarly resources can be developed for access most helpfully in the future."
These goals are part of the road map that will sustain collections in many formats for the future.
As van der Reyden said in introducing James Reilly, executive director of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI), "IPI's contributions to our field are legendary, especially in developing practical tools to help libraries, museums and archives everywhere."
Reilly and his colleagues grounded the program series in "where we've come from" – managing the physical environment and understanding the evolving nature of visual collection materials.
Libraries and others depend on IPI's photographic activity test, which measures the likelihood that storage materials used for photographs and digital prints will react with those objects to cause damage. IPI also developed the acid-detection strips internationally used to detect deteriorating nitrate and acetate negatives. The strips help us prioritize and preserve both motion picture films and photo negatives by flagging items that are decaying the most quickly.
IPI always has focused on helping collection managers understand their images. An extensive suite of tools is available at no cost via IPI's website, www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org, including an interactive tool to identify and characterize graphic and digital prints and photographs. IPI also provides technical reports, storage and consumer guides, e-newsletters, workshops and other contributions to preserve the vast body of visual materials.
Under Reilly's leadership IPI has also developed computer-based recording tools for monitoring collection climates efficiently, saving costs and reducing potential storage emergencies.
Nancy Lev-Alexander, head of the Library's Preventive Preservation Section, described the achievements of the Library Services' Preservation Directorate/IPI collaboration.
IPI continues to develop a model system for the Library in collaboration with Preservation Directorate staff. That system allows information to be collected from 90 environments across six building locations, using IPI's "Preservation Index" to help make a data-based case for HVAC control "to contribute to energy savings and sustainability of the Library without jeopardizing the original format of our collections." Eventually this will inform tools for collections across the world.
Automatic temperature and humidity log technology ("data loggers"), computer-based analysis tools and IPI input have helped the Library's staff work to maximum effectiveness with Architect of the Capitol staff for climate improvements and potential cost savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The next two symposia, in March and October 2011, will continue to explore the tools we have now and need in the future to tackle the needs of legacy, reformatted and born-digital resources; the costs of life-cycle management and infrastructure; and strategies for sustainability, relevance and added value in increasingly diverse collections.
They will sow the seeds of consensus and collaboration to assure that our collections, as Lev-Alexander said, "preserve their ability to inform and inspire generations far into the future."