The Book as Object*
By the RLG Preservation Committee
For collection managers and curators reviewing materials, this list can serve as an aid when assessing library materials that might be rare or valuable. It explains why books become rare and deserve retention in their format.
Many items are important because of their format; often reasons are clear for maintaining those titles in their original state. In other cases, the reasons may not be so clear, but before withdrawing or converting to another format (due to deterioration, space-saving needs, superseded editions, or duplication) they should be reviewed. Hopefully, the considerations below provide an incentive to retain those items possessing valuable or important information in their physical format which might otherwise be lost.
The RLG Preservation Committee developed this list, with suggestions from two other RLG groups: the Collection Management and Development Program Committee, and the Archives, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Program Committee. Documents consulted were:
- The National Archives and Records Administration document Intrinsic Value in Archival Material (Staff Information Paper 21).
- Transfer of Materials to Special Collections of the Archives and Special Collections Task Force, Rare Book and Manuscript Section, Association of College and Research Libraries.
- An unpublished article, “The Preservation of Bibliographic Evidence,” by Ellen McCrady.
- New York Public Library Technical Memorandum No. 40, Permanent Retention of Materials in the General Collections in their Original Format.
- The chapter, “Selection of Materials for Microfilming” in Preservation Microfilming: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists (Chicago: American Library Association, 1987).
This list is neither prescriptive nor presented in priority order. It does not represent RLG policy and is offered for informational, education, and selection aid only.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR RETAINING ITEMS IN ORIGINAL FORMAT
- Evidential value-does the item possess or demonstrate:
- The printing history of the item, such as registration pin marks, cancels, printing techniques, and typographic errors.
- The binding history of the volume such as original sewing stations, binding structure, printed wastepapers used in the spine lining, and cover materials.
- Marginalia, marks of ownership, and relevant ephemera laid or tipped in.
- Aesthetic value-does the item have:
- Bindings demonstrating:
– unusual technique or artistry.
– historical/developmental interest of structure or materials.
– signed/designer bindings.
– early publisher’s bindings.
- Other book decorations (e.g., gilding, gauffering, decorated endpapers, fore-edge paintings).
- Illustrations not easily reproduced or meaningful only in the original color or original woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, etc.
- Importance as an “artists’ book” where the book is designed as an object.
- Original photographs.
- Maps of importance.
- Pencil, ink, or watercolor sketches.
- Bindings demonstrating:
- Importance in the printing history of significant titles-does the item possess any of these characteristics:
- First appearance of the title.
- Important bibliographic variants.
- Important (or collected) fine press printings.
- Technique important to the printing history.
- Examples of early local imprints.
- Age-determine if an item was:
- Printed before [specific dates] in [specific countries] (e.g., all titles printed before 1850 in the U.S. or all books printed before 1801).
- Printed during the incunabula period of any area (the first decades).
- Printed during specific later periods, such as war years, in specific countries.
- Scarcity-determine if an item was:
- Rare in RLG member, NUC, and/or major European libraries.
- Of fewer than 100 copies printed.
- Association value of important, famous, locally collected figures or topics-does the item contain:
- Notes in the margin, on endpapers, within the text.
- Bookplates and other ownership marks of such figures; other evidence of significant provenance.
- Important inscriptions and/or signatures.
- Value assessed or sold at more than [specific cost].
- Physical format or features of interest-does the item possess any of these characteristics:
- Contains significant examples of various forms demonstrating technological development.
- Exhibits unique or curious physical features (e.g., interesting watermarks, printing on vellum, wax seals).
- Is an ephemeral material likely to be scarce, such as a lettersheet, poster, songster, or broadside.
- Contains some manuscript materials.
- Is a miniature book (10 cm or less in height).
- Is of questionable authenticity where the physical format may help verify it.
- Is representative of styles, fads, mass printings currently rare.
- Exhibit value-is the item:
- Important to an historical event, a significant issue, or in illustrating the subject or creator.
- Censored or banned.
* * Source: Nancy E. Elkington, ed. 1992. RLG Preservation Microfilming Handbook. Mountain View, Calif.: The Research Libraries Group, Inc. pp. 62-64. Reprinted with permission.
Conservation Treatment: Library Materials to be Retained in the Collection in Original Format
Cornell University Library
Department of Preservation and Conservation
Reproduced with permission
The following criteria are designed to help identify library materials which should be preserved in their original format. In general, this material should not be replaced by reprographic means, reformatted, rebound, or repaired without careful consideration by the Conservation Liaison Specialist and the appropriate curators and bibliographers. The criteria should be applied to library materials regardless of shelf location, as it is recognized that circulating collections often contain materials which should be preserved in original format (see also RLG Preservation Manual, “Book as Object,” pp. 6264). Items identified for treatment from the general circulating collections to which the criteria apply should be brought to the attention of the Head of Rare Books (or appropriate curator) with a view to transfer to a sequestered collection.
- Pre-1850 imprints and imprints issued after 1850 that can be considered rare or especially interesting because of time, place, and subject.
- Materials having notable illustrations, maps, engravings etc, adding to the work’s interest and/or value.
- First editions of significant works.
- Books with bindings of special interest because of type, period or binder.
- Manuscripts and typescripts.
- Association copies and materials having autographs of significance.
- Material having added notes, annotations, marginalia etc. adding to the interest and or value of the work.
- Materials in special closed collections.
- Rare ephemera and other elusive items, such as songsters, sheet music, broadsides, almanacs, charts, original historic photographs, etc.
- Notable standard reference works no longer in print such as dictionaries and encyclopedias.
In general, all books printed before 1850 and in original bindings will be restored rather than rebound, with all the features of the original bindings retained.
Library Preservation at Harvard: A Definition of Terms
Harvard University Library Preservation Center
January 2000 revision
Reproduced with permission
Conservation treatment, reformatting, commercial library binding, environmental control, disaster preparedness and response, and preservation education and training are the core initiatives that make up a comprehensive preservation program. Implementing such a program requires skilled staff, carefully selected and implemented technologies, and sound management practices.
CONSERVATION: Protecting and restoring the original object
The term conservation embraces activities that improve the condition of an object or protect it from damage. Paper treatments, for example, include everything from mending a small tear to washing, deacidifying, and other complex chemical and mechanical treatments. For books, treatments range from tipping in an errata sheet to full conservation rebinding. Conservation is also an appropriate strategy for preserving certain non-paper media. Conservation of motion picture film, for example, can include ultrasonic cleaning, splicing of breaks, and sprocket repair. Conservation activities also include such activities as pamphlet binding, boxing, enveloping, and other means of protective enclosure.
Collections conservation is the treatment and protective enclosure of materials that are valuable in the aggregate (e.g., the literature of a subject area or period, posters of a particular genre). An individual item is more important as it relates to other materials in the collection than it is as a disassociated object. Typically, 19th and 20th-century books and journals in circulating collections are the focus of a collections conservation program. While collections conservation techniques are often complex, items with similar problems can be grouped for batch treatment. Significant numbers of materials are conserved annually (tens of thousands in a large research library) using archival-quality materials and techniques. The goal is to preserve large collections of scholarly significance and therein to improve the library’s overall service performance.
Special collections conservation is the treatment of materials that, while they may be important because of their relationship to larger collections, also have intrinsic value (and sometimes great monetary value) as isolated objects-much as do important pieces in museum collections. They may be valuable because they are rare, unique, were owned by an important person, are very beautiful or for other historical or aesthetic reasons. Conservation treatments involve extensive written and photographic documentation and the use of instruments such as powerful microscopes. The goal is to protect treasures having extraordinary local or worldwide significance.
REFORMATTING: Reproducing information at risk
Reformatting is the copying of library materials. Deteriorated objects-brittle books, for example-are copied onto more stable materials (silver halide microfilm, alkaline paper) to preserve information. Decaying nitrate negatives are copied onto stable film; motion picture film is copied to new film or to videotape to protect the original from the wear and tear of repeated use; photographs may be re-photographed using analog or digital means in order to protect originals from handling; sound recordings are copied to new media to ensure that they remain usable. Not all copying is motivated by preservation concerns. New versions are sometimes created to improve distributability and/or functionality. Scanned text that has been processed with Optical Character Recognition software is word-searchable and can be distributed widely over networks. Conversion of information to digital form can sometimes create rather than solve preservation problems.
COMMERCIAL LIBRARY BINDING: Managing the use of contractual services
Commercial library binding is the binding and rebinding of volumes in a largely automated commercial facility. In general, journal issues are bound together to collocate them and to prevent damage and loss; paperbacks are bound to make them more sturdy for library use; hardcover books are rebound because they are damaged and do not merit conservation treatment.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL: Achieving hospitable storage conditions
Creating and maintaining storage conditions that promote the longevity of collections is the single most beneficial preservation strategy that a library can pursue. Controlling temperature, relative humidity, light, and air quality within appropriate ranges can radically slow the deterioration of paper, leather, cloth, plastic, and other materials ubiquitous in libraries. In general, cool, dry, low-light spaces free of gaseous and particulate pollutants are optimal. Ongoing monitoring of conditions is essential to maintaining preservation-quality conditions.
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE: Protecting collections from hazards
Emergency preparedness for libraries involves prevention, preparation, and response. Prevention is the reduction of risk, including inspecting, maintaining, and repairing library buildings. Preparation involves writing a disaster plan, assembling essential supplies, developing communications channels with essential service providers, and training staff to react effectively. Response is the skillful salvaging of collections damaged as the result of minor destructive incidents and catastrophic events.
STAFF AND USER EDUCATION: Protecting collections through teaching
The goal of preservation education programs is to build awareness within the library user community of the fragile, irreplaceable nature of research library collections, and to teach and encourage improved care and handling practices. Printed materials, training sessions, seminars, and conferences are typical communications vehicles employed for this purpose.