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CPA Newsletter #98, Apr 1997

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access


April 1997

Number 98

EROMM Database on World Wide Web


he database of the European Register of Microform Masters (EROMM) is now accessible for World Wide Web browsing. This improved accessibility makes it easy to retrieve more than 350,000 records of reformatted books held by European libraries. The URL for the file is:

National and other large libraries and library computing centers make up the EROMM membership. They contribute their own records and those collected from affiliated libraries to the register, and they offer to provide service copies of the reformatted items. Currently, 11 countries and some 32 libraries are cooperating with EROMM. The countries are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, The Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Most books and journals recorded in EROMM were published between 1850 and 1950 (more than 185,000 items). However, there also are considerable numbers originally published in the 17th and 18th centuries. About half the works recorded are in French, less than a third are in English. Works in Latin, German, Italian and Portuguese range between one and four percent each.

EROMM is intended to record printed works reformatted according to archival standards only. As a rule, the database includes information related to preservation masters. Only where such information is unavailable are printing masters filed instead. An agreement between EROMM and the Research Libraries Group (RLG) signed last year provides for continuous exchange of European and American master records. A first sample of records derived from RLG’s RLIN database is available in the EROMM file.

Direct ordering of service copies (hardcopy, microform, or digital, depending on the owning library’s technical capacities) can be done on the basis of EROMM records. EROMM’s online ordering facility is about to become available for all file users. For more information, contact the EROMM secretariat by e-mail: 
IN THIS ISSUE: The joint testimony of the Commission, Association of Research Libraries, and National Humanities Alliance in support of FY-1998 appropriations for the National Endowment for the Humanities. The President’s request for NEH in FY-1998 is for $136 million which would, if enacted, provide $26 million more than the present (FY-1997) appropriation. Of the requested amount, $21 million is for Preservation & Access, $3 million more than in FY-1997.

School for Scanning to be held on West Coast


conference titled “School for Scanning: Preservation and Access in a Digital World” will be presented by the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in cooperation with the National Park Service and The Getty Information Institute, at the Berkeley (CA) Marina Marriott Hotel May 12-14, 1997. Participants will be trained in:

  • Basics of Digital Technology
  • Deciphering Digital Jargon
  • Practical Guide to File Formats
  • Content Selection for Digitization
  • Legal Issues of Digital Technology
  • Text and Image Scanning
  • Quality Control and Costs
  • Essentials of Metadata
  • Digital Preservation: Fact or Fiction

The conference is designed for librarians, archivists, curators, interpreters, historic preservation specialists, registrars, and other cultural or natural resource managers. No prior knowledge of digital media is required. The conference is funded in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Northeast Document Conservation Center receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The number of participants is limited, and registration applications will be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis. The cost is $245, including lunches. Participants will also be responsible for all their travel and lodging costs. For more information, contact: Kim O’Leary, Field Service Office, Northeast Document Conservation Center, 100 Brickstone Square, Andover, MA 01810. (508) 470-1010. Fax: (508) 475-6021. Email:

Written Statement from

The Association of Research Libraries, Commission on Preservation and Access,
and National Humanities Alliance

On the Fiscal Year 1998 Appropriations for the
National Endowment for the Humanities

Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee
Committee on Appropriations U.S. House of Representatives

Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee
Committee on Appropriations United States Senate

5 March 1997


e write to express support for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and to urge the Subcommittee to recommend a Fiscal Year 1998 appropriation for the agency of $136 million, the amount requested by the president. As you know, the NEH request includes $21 million for preservation and access, a $3 million increase over the present appropriation.

1997 marks the seventh consecutive year that three national organizations–the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), and the National Humanities Alliance (NHA)–have joined together to testify on the value and importance of the preservation programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

What is the background of NEH support
for preservation?
It was in the 1980s that the nation was first alerted to the scale of the catastrophe facing our country’s recorded history: library and archival holdings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are deteriorating and turning brittle because of the highly acidic paper on which they are printed. The capacity of individual libraries to respond to the crisis varies widely. Research libraries hold the largest number of embrittled volumes, and each of these libraries has begun to deal with its worst cases of deterioration. Yet no one library has the resources to cope with the problem in its full national dimension.

In 1988, in response to a request from the Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities drew up a plan to preserve, over a period of twenty years, the contents of some 3,000,000 embrittled books important to the record of the nation’s shared historical and scholarly heritage. The NEH plan, which reflected the best knowledge in the field at that time, opted to use microfilm as the safest and most economical way to begin capturing the contents of books, although it was understood that, if a demonstrably superior technology were to emerge, it would be adopted. From the beginning, the clear interest expressed by the Federal Government in preserving the endangered materials helped frame the twin purposes that have guided the plan: a) to film the books so that their contents will be available to future generations, and b) to provide–for the general public and for scholars–the much broader access to the books that becomes possible once they have been filmed.

There has been seven years’ experience with the practical implementation of this extraordinarily farsighted and ambitious plan, under the direction of NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access. As a consequence, it is an appropriate time to take stock of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. By the end of 1996, more than 750,000 books had been filmed. While this figure represents some slippage from the targets set in 1988, we believe that the productivity is quite remarkable when measured against the reduced Federal resources available. These materials are available for use on-site in a number of libraries across the country and can be obtained with only a short wait at thousands more. But the need to continue the preservation work is as urgent as ever, and it would be tragic to reduce the financial support essential for its orderly progress. Jan Merrill-Oldham, Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian at Harvard University, has identified precisely what is at stake: “We are in danger of losing the nineteenth century, and much of the twentieth as well.”

Why is a Federal presence necessary?
The brittle-book problem represents a serious threat to a fundamental national asset–the printed record that undergirds our common knowledge. Hundreds of thousands of additional items–books, archival materials, papers, photographs–important to humanistic inquiry move into high risk each year because of their age and physical condition. Once these resources have deteriorated too badly, they are lost forever. In 1991, James McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War history Battle Cry of Freedom, offered testimony on behalf of the NEH preservation program. McPherson described his encounter with embrittled resources while he was doing research for the doctoral dissertation that later became his first book:

“As I turned these precious but highly acidic pages, some of them tore and crumbled in my hands no matter how carefully and delicately I handled them. I was horrified by the experience of damaging, perhaps destroying the very sources that nurtured my knowledge…Over the thirty years since that experience, things have changed and improved a good deal. Nearly all of the newspapers and many of the pamphlets I used then have subsequently been microfilmed…This has been a great benefit not only to me but to many students whose graduate and undergraduate research I have directed.”

As libraries around the country have joined the program for a twenty-year commitment to reformatting embrittled materials, the indispensable role of the NEH has become clear. Continued–indeed strengthened–Federal leadership in advocating the rescue of these irreplaceable resources and in keeping attention focused on the routine but absolutely essential daily business of filming the vulnerable items is indispensable. The scale of the national problem is so staggering as to defeat the efforts of any single institution, no matter how generously it might commit itself to the task. But the leadership of the National Endowment for the Humanities has made it possible to reach this goal through national cooperation.

What have been the benefits of NEH leadership?
Coordination. By guiding the efforts of individual institutions into a national effort, the NEH program has been responsible for the development of an ethic of common practice among participating libraries. It is an ethic that stresses coordinated activity and adherence to the highest technical standards. Only a national agency had the authoritative presence to foster the evolution of this ethic.

Standards. NEH has taken the lead in helping libraries define standards for cataloging the filmed materials and assuring access to them. Institutions that do the filming must retain a master negative, a print master, and a service copy, and they must provide copies of the film at cost upon request. In addition, the microfilms must be stored under environmental conditions that meet nationally accepted standards. Only a Federal agency could have introduced the requirement that bibliographic records for the filmed materials go into a national data base, to alert potential users everywhere to their existence, and to save libraries the expense of duplicative filming. When private foundations joined the microfilming effort, they adopted these same requirements as conditions of their grants.

Leverage. Federal support has meant that hundreds of individual preservation efforts around the country are leveraged and added to a nationwide program. None stands apart or risks being redundant. When NEH supports the preservation of collections that relate immediately to state or local history, it is with a recognition that the collections are part of the mosaic of the entire nation’s history. Thus, the New York State Archives has received several major grants from the Endowment to preserve and make accessible deteriorating collections that include the earliest records of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and English Colonial governments in New York, records of the New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities after World War I, and records of home-front activities across the state during World War II. The research significance of these materials extends well past the borders of New York.

Indeed, the NEH initiative has had a remarkable influence internationally. Its example has prompted governments elsewhere to take similar action to preserve their nations’ printed heritage, and they have used the American experience as a model in organizing their preservation programs. As a result, the international community is sharing with the United States the effort and the great expense of saving and making accessible the fragile memory of the world. This coordinated international effort, patterned after the NEH program, provides libraries and schools in this country with intellectual resources from around the world to which they would otherwise not have had easy access.

What do institutions contribute?
NEH is not the sole funding source for the national preservation effort. Libraries and archives devote substantial resources of their own to preservation, and Federal funds have helped libraries raise private matching support for preservation. Harvard, for example, spends more than $3 million a year for preservation work, in addition to any support from NEH. But, in allocating their own funds, university libraries must give priority to meeting their immediate internal preservation needs–to making certain that their holdings are in good condition to support research and instruction. NEH funds, on the other hand, have allowed institutions to work toward the filming of entire priceless collections. Columbia University can film about 1,000 volumes a year with its own funds, and the volumes are chosen largely on the basis of local demand and use. Over the past six years, Federal funds have supported the filming of some 55,000 additional volumes at Columbia, and these have been chosen for their distinction, their fragility, their coherence as collections, and their importance to scholars and citizens in locations far beyond the campus.

Moreover, NEH support has encouraged universities to increase their own preservation budgets. As one example, the provost of Cornell has allocated supplementary funding to the University’s preservation department for each of the past six years, in recognition of its achievements. Again at Cornell, NEH funding has stimulated private support from, among others, the Mellon, Culpeper, Luce, Reynolds, and Delmas foundations, and the University has had, since 1984, nineteen competitive grants from New York State for preservation activity. As Mary Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa of the University of Texas libraries has observed, “Continued support at the national level will assist libraries at the state and local levels in obtaining support for the ongoing care of our national resources.”

What is the role of new technologies in the program?
Digital technology presents an entirely new set of preservation opportunities and challenges. The microfilms in the national preservation program can be converted to digital format should it become the preferred mode of long-term storage and easy retrieval. In the meantime, as education and information services move increasingly into electronic formats, the NEH Division of Preservation and Access serves as an indispensable forum for encouraging an approach to digitization that is rational, coherent, and coordinated, and that considers not just the capacities of the technology but the nature of the materials and the needs of the American public.
What threatens the continued success of the preservation program?
When the twenty-year national commitment to save embrittled materials was first announced, the New York Public Library responded to the challenge with a plan for filming, over the course of the twenty years, scarce and rare materials from its great collections on American history and culture. NEH support for the plan has allowed the filming to proceed in an orderly and very productive fashion–in the most recent two-year grant period, Federal funds rescued some 13,000 volumes. But because of reductions in the current NEH budget, the latest grant to the Library will enable it to film only half the number of items it had hoped to save in the next two years. There is a danger that the Library will fall inexorably behind in its preservation work on behalf of scholars and readers everywhere.

The NEH Division of Preservation and Access has put into place a multi-institutional program that is a model of its kind, and the coordinated action of dozens of partners of varied size and character is now a daily reality in America. It is routine in the very best sense of the word. The staff of key institutions have been trained to perform highly technical, detailed work. The work is efficient, cost-effective, and of an importance we can only begin to estimate: “The value of the reformatted library we are building around the country cannot yet be calculated,” says Scott Bennett, Librarian of Yale University. But the continuance of this important work is by no means assured, and, if it were interrupted, the prospects for beginning it again one day seem bleak indeed–and, in any case, how much would crumble and be lost in the interim!

It would be a tragedy to impede the national preservation program for lack of funding–as it would be to flag in the resolve to see it to completion, or to take for granted its continued success. Without adequate, sustained financial support, this generous undertaking in the national interest will fall short of the noble goals that were set for it when it was first announced to the American people.

We respectfully request the Congress to maintain its commitment to the preservation of our shared printed cultural history. 

Commission on Preservation and Access
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington, DC 20036-2217
(202) 939-3400 Fax: (202) 939-3407

The Commission on Preservation and Access was established in 1986 to foster and support collaboration among libraries and allied organizations in order to ensure the preservation of the published and documentary record in all formats and to provide enhanced access to scholarly information.

The Newsletter reports on cooperative national and international preservation activities and is written primarily for university administrators and faculty, library and archives administrators, preservation specialists and administrators, and representatives of consortia, governmental bodies, and other groups sharing in the Commission’s goals. The Newsletter is not copyrighted; its duplication and distribution are encouraged.

Deanna B. Marcum–President
James M. Morris–Vice President
Maxine K. Sitts–Program Officer, Editor


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