On the basis of its analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data gathered for this report, the Advisory Committee has concluded that academic libraries of all sizes and types must develop greater self-help capabilities and that professional organizations, consortia, and funding agencies promoting preservation can help in this process. The committee has also recommended six areas for action. We are aware that some of these recommendations have already been incorporated into the preservation agendas of the various sponsoring partners. Our findings suggest that while the partners’ agendas are based on the perceived needs of their constituents or members, their agendas also reflect the needs of a broader group of academic and research libraries. We are also aware that some of the recommendations listed here do not have a particular organizational champion. We have not identified potential players in this report; as a next step, we suggest that stakeholders review the recommendations to determine how relevant they are to groups that are concerned about preservation. We encourage the sponsoring partners of this project and other interested parties to consider the means to facilitate such a review.
- Encourage a common and more inclusive understanding of preservation to support program development.
- Focus attention on pragmatic and measurable approaches.
- Tailor knowledge and techniques to targeted audiences.
- Address the digital preservation challenge at the local level.
- Explore collaborative solutions that demonstrably benefit the home front.
- Secure sustainable funding for preservation.
Recommendation 1: Encourage a common and more inclusive understanding of preservation to support program development.
The study revealed that the definitions of what constitutes “preservation practice” differ greatly among academic library staff members. Some, for example, define it in very narrow terms. When preservation is viewed narrowly, it gets separated from mainstream functions, becomes identified as someone else’s domain, and is considered a luxury. This is particularly problematic in chronically underfunded libraries, where the message offered by one interviewee needs to be reinforced: “Preservation isn’t just for the well-to-do institutions.” Even institutions whose resources are comparatively large are beginning to suffer from retrenchment caused by the current economic crisis. Encouraging the development of a common understanding of what constitutes preservation would improve communication among those involved in its functions.
Concerned parties can promote a common, more inclusive understanding of preservation that
- encompasses all actions and policies designed to prolong the useful life of information
- speaks to the mission of the library and the institution
- looks to the long-term national preservation of scholarly output and recognizes that the national interest is met when local interests are met
- stresses access and the patron’s right to information
- promotes fiscal accountability
- incorporates measurement and evaluation
- entails a wide-ranging set of programmatic activities
This approach suggests the need to create entirely new ways to measure preservation activity across a range of institutions. Research libraries have assessed preservation capability by collecting data on such measures as whether the library has a preservation administrator, the number of staff in a preservation unit, and the number of staff performing preservation functions outside the preservation unit. Application of such measures may cause some non-ARL institutions to feel inadequate or to assume that preservation is something that they cannot afford.
Whatever the measures used, they need to incorporate outputs and effectiveness. The message must be clear that preservation is everyone’s job, and that preservation cuts across all library operations. Assisting library staff members to develop an appreciation for their roles in preservation would help the library understand and meet its preservation objectives more effectively and smoothly.
Recommendation 2: Focus attention on pragmatic and measurable approaches.
Scientific research and development that supports preservation is most successful when it can be applied in the greatest number and type of libraries. The study revealed a hunger for practical advice and assistance based on proven approaches. There must be a measurable payoff for resources expended. Greater emphasis must be placed on providing practical assistance and services, establishing realistic goals, and delivering information in useful forms. It is also essential to acknowledge that some complex preservation problems may be beyond the capabilities of the staff; the focus on the pragmatic should include advice on what not to attempt and when to seek outside help.
Concerned parties can respond to this need by
- determining the barriers to the discovery and use of preservation information
- providing practical as well as authoritative filtering of advice and recommendations
- publicizing standards and best practices of interest for current library use
- identifying needs for new standards and best practices and setting priorities for their development
- focusing information provision on preservation basics and on what is immediately relevant
- identifying levels of service appropriate to needs, significance of the materials, resource availability, and institutional mission
- using local library record keeping and measurements to assess the impact of preservation on library operations
- defining, generating, and sharing evaluation data
- determining appropriate means for delivering the information (e.g., case studies, checklists, vendor and supplier directories, exhibits, information kiosks)
- encouraging funding for projects to create practical tools (e.g., tools to automate quality control)
- investigating electronic means for two-way information exchange so that people can seek advice or clarify topics when necessary
Recommendation 3: Tailor knowledge and techniques to targeted audiences.
Organizational context and timing are as important as content is. The delivery of information should respect differences among and be tailored for various institutions. What works in a large institution may not be effective in a smaller one; the missions and operating procedures of public institutions are different from those of private institutions. Good preservation information may not be useful unless it is packaged for implementation in a particular milieu. Such information may be hard to find and use at the point of need. The study revealed some of the distinctions among institutional types that should influence how material is presented, when it is presented, and what is emphasized. Services and guidance designed to aid preservation work in local institutions must take into account circumstances, size, mission, and other factors characteristic of these institutions.
Concerned parties can respond to this need by
- packaging information for various audiences
- providing access to information that others can tailor to meet local needs
- focusing on guidance and assessment tools rather than on absolute requirements
- assembling profiles of institutional practices and success stories at peer institutions
- identifying preservation benchmarks (including statistics gathering) appropriate to a particular group of institutions
- establishing a “problems anonymous” database that allows institutions to share experiences and concerns without fear of reprisal or embarrassment
Recommendation 4: Address the digital preservation challenge at the local level.
Of all the preservation challenges, none is more pressing than developing solutions to digital preservation. Staff members in academic libraries understand the general problem, but most do not know how to address it. Institutions in the survey range along a continuum. At one end are those who are only beginning to appreciate the impact of digital preservation at the local level; at the other are those who are taking concrete, if tentative, steps to meet the challenge. Some feel disenfranchised because they are not at the table in discussions that have an impact on the long-term care of digital content; others, with very limited resources, fear becoming solely responsible for developing solutions. At the institutional level, addressing this need requires recognition of joint responsibilities with related units, such as information technology. At the interinstitutional level, it entails engaging in consortial opportunities.
Concerned parties can step into the breach by
- developing authoritative literature to assist libraries in raising the level of institutional awareness of what is at stake
- identifying and making available an annotated knowledge base of current and emerging standards, best practices, research results, consultants, and implementation strategies
- offering professional development opportunities and training programs aimed at promoting realizable and effective short-term digital preservation responses that can simplify day-to-day management
- publicizing workable solutions, policies, practices, and standards undertaken at institutions that have addressed the issue
- vigorously campaigning with funding agencies such as NSF to promote digital preservation research and standards development focusing on the pragmatic and near term (e.g., next 10 years)
Recommendation 5: Explore collaborative solutions that demonstrably benefit the home front.
When a single institution’s resources are inadequate, interinstitutional collaboration might ease the burden. This approach has been underused in preservation, and it deserves further exploration and adoption where appropriate. At present, libraries focus mainly on the needs of their own institutions; all cooperative initiatives must be justified on the grounds of compelling benefit to the home institution. Making the case for interinstitutional cooperation will depend on how effectively it can be tied to local interests, and not be seen simply as a worthy goal in and of itself.
Concerned parties can contribute by
- publicizing collaborative preservation approaches that are grounded in real-world experience, especially those that attract funding, achieve better economy of scale, promote longevity, or improve services
- increasing opportunities for those working in relative isolation to develop contacts with those active in the field to facilitate information sharing and a sense of community interest
- supporting collective efforts in various regions with common needs
- uniting in collaborative efforts at the national level to share costs, expertise, and infrastructure
- encouraging expanded funding for organizations, such as those belonging to the Regional Alliance for Preservation, that serve the needs of libraries that cannot afford full-time preservation administrators or highly skilled experts on staff (e.g., conservators, digital preservation specialists)
- developing a means for measuring the success of collaborative preservation efforts through annual reporting of statistics
Recommendation 6: Secure sustainable funding for preservation.
The study revealed that most academic libraries consider the resources available in their institutions for preservation woefully lacking. Adequate preservation resources, as defined by study participants, typically are not built into general operating budgets, and in many institutions programs have developed only with outside grants. Some library directors have not made their commitment to preservation explicit in terms of funding and priority. In some cases, preservation is looked on favorably but is deferred when it involves additional staff, time, and money. All too often, the consequences of deferred preservation or inadequate preparation (e.g., disaster planning) are insufficiently understood or fail to be compelling in comparison with more immediate concerns, such as maintaining library hours, supplying Internet connections, or staffing the reference desk.
When an institution is considering how to use limited resources most effectively, the decision not to invest in preservation may be made on the basis of inadequate information. Until preservation is seen as a worthy and equal programmatic objective, it will not secure adequate resources. Solutions must take into account the shortage or inflexibility of resources for preservation that exist in most libraries.
Concerned parties can address funding concerns by
- investigating the use of the business risk model as a preservation measure4
- identifying alternative administrative structures and funding models for preservation within a library
- identifying and promoting advocacy strategies to increase institutional support for preservation
- supporting research and development in inexpensive preservation processes and equipment
- identifying the preservation implications of alternatives for various functions, their expense, and the advantages and disadvantages of each approach
- reexamining traditional assumptions about the treatment of unbound materials, given the centrality of binding to library preservation and the complexities associated with this function (including budget vulnerability, new storage modes, and the effects of digital subscriptions)
- engaging public and private funding sources in assessing the effect of preservation grants on the development of programs within institutions
4 See, for instance, Price and Smith 2000.