Library Science

Preservation and Conservation of Library Materials

P. Sarasvathy (2007), University of Mysore

1.1 Introduction:

The present world is fast changing from the industrial world to the information world. It requires speedy, accurate, ready and reliable information. A large amount of information is being generated every moment. The information has become a strategic raw material and a dominating factor in decision making and execution. Information is and will be a primordial need for each individual in this world. Information is regarded as “Lifeblood of society” and a vital resource for national development.Library Materials

Knowledge is becoming multi-dimensional, multidisciplinary and it is growing fast because of the information revolution. This revolution is spinning around the computing and communication tools which forms the backbone of information technology (IT). Knowledge and information coexist to complement and supplement each other with the support of I.T. This scenario has given rise to the new dimensions of knowledge that not only accelerates its growth but has also transformed the nature of its resources from the printed form to the electronic/digital form such as magnetic tapes, floppy disks, CD-ROM, etc. With the emergence of INTERNET era a rapid phase of growth such as online databases, List Serves, discussion groups, electronic journals, etc has enriched the accessibility of information. The development of digital libraries, virtual libraries have further promoted library activities and have taken them beyond four walls.

However, there are libraries with rare collections which are the treasures of local heritage. They reflect the heritage and culture of the society. The information in these libraries is in a variety of forms such as palm leaves, manuscripts, printed books, etc. Preservation requirements of these library holdings are obviously different from those of libraries established during the recent past. These libraries have the special responsibility of preserving heritage and culture as it is the duty of all library staff, from the head of the library down to the last worker at the bottom to safeguard, protect and preserve the holdings in their libraries. Preservation measures have to be endorsed supported and encouraged from the most senior level to the most junior in the library. Those who are responsible for managing the library and maintaining the external and internal fabric of the building need to work closely with those who are responsible for the preservation of the collections. Preservation needs of a library have to be considered in line with the social and political climate in which the organization operates. The organization’s purpose, collecting policies, and available resources also matter in preserving this wealth of resources.

Efforts have been made by some of these libraries to convert few rare materials in microforms and in digital form. This kind of enormous shift in information storage and dissemination technology has called for dual responsibilities on the part of librarians. Firstly, to accept the change and adapt the concept of access to information rather than owning such information. This calls for developing a technology base and digital library resources and facilitate users with access to information electronically. Secondly, take necessary steps not only to preserve existing print and non-print materials for future use but also promote easy access to such information.

1.2. Need for Preservation & Conservation Library Collection:

Need for Preservation & Conservation Library collection generally contains a wide range of organic materials, including paper, cloth, animal skin, and adhesives, and modern media such as microforms, optical and magnetic discs, digital formats, photographs, and audio and visual media. The organic substances undergo a continual and inevitable natural aging process. While measures can be taken to slow this deterioration by careful handling and providing a sympathetic environment, it is impossible to halt it altogether. The chemical and physical stability of library material also depends on the quality and processing of the raw products used in their manufacture together with the design and construction of the final artifact. Over the centuries, the pressures of mass production have reduced the material quality of what is received in libraries. Much of the paper stock manufactured after 1850 is highly acidic, becomes brittle, and will self-destruct in time. Binding techniques have been abbreviated for the sake of automation and many text-blocks are now held together solely by adhesive. In fact, all books and, in particular, leather bindings, are far more susceptible to damage. Though these documents have inherent preservation problems they need to be stored and used carefully if they are not to perish prematurely. Thus two major problems confront a librarian seeking a pre-1900 book are durability and scarcity. A book printed from the mid-1800s on is probably made of acid paper, bound in a machine-made case and very fragile.

Preservation of information is an idea whose time has come. Preservation and conservation (PAC) are related activities, relevant in library and information centers (LICs). If considered at all, they were deemed to be the province of those who had the care of rare books and manuscripts. But during recent past, the view of PAC has expanded to become an integral part of the much wider area of collection management and a vital element in the provision of access to information. If the particular medium, which records the information, has been allowed to decay and disappear, then access to it is impossible. This increased perception of the essential requirement of preservation is perhaps related to the ‘green revolution’ generally, global warming, pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. The World Environment Summits at Rio in 1992 and Kyoto in 1997 and numerous other events have all contributed to the growing awareness of the importance of preserving and conserving the physical environment; some of this concern has percolated into the thinking of library and information managers (LIMs) who are concerned with access to information and its provision to their users.

There are, of course, more specific reasons than the general ‘greening’ of society for the heightened awareness of the need to preserve collections of information. An early one was the discovery of the ‘brittle books syndrome’. Most books printed after about 1850 and some even before that date were produced on paper which was chemically unstable and these books were literally crumbling into dust on the shelves of hundreds of libraries around the world. John Murray wrote to the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1823: “Allow me to call the attention of your readers to the present state of what wretched compound called paper. Every printer will corroborate my testimony; and I am only neglected and forgotten. It is a duty, however, of the most imperative description; – our beautiful Religion, our Literature, our Science, all are threatened., (84) A good study was undertaken by the Harvard University Library Task Group on Collection Preservation Priorities (1991). The flood which devastated the city of Florence in 1966 caused enormous damage to the priceless documents in the Italian State Archives. Substantial donations of money poured in, but it quickly became apparent that there were not sufficient numbers of trained conservators to undertake the highly skilled workers required for restoration. Most of the damage was repaired eventually, but the disaster revealed a serious gap in the knowledge of preservation management and technique worldwide.

International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) (84) set up its core Preservation and Conservation Programme in 1984 as a logical continuation of the earlier programs of Universal Bibliographic Control and Universal Availability of Publications. The progrmme is based at the Library of Congress (LC) and encourages research into different methods of preservation and the formulation of policy and strategy at national and international levels. The LC has published several comprehensive handbooks on practical preservation techniques and funded extensive research into the mass de-acidification of paper.

Ratclliffe Report (UK1984) (84) investigated preservation policies and conservation practices in British libraries. The British Library also set up the National Preservation Office (NPO) to provide a focus for preservation planning and co-operation. Ratcliffe was succeeded in widening the concern beyond the rarefied world of special collections and antiquarian materials by bringing awareness among those concerned and the public. It has lead to a number of subsequent studies.

France, Germany, and Spain, have begun to put considerable emphasis on preservation and conservation in recent years. UNESCO has also turned its attention to these issues with the publication of two key documents, Guidelines on preservation and conservation policies in libraries and archives (Chapman, 1990 ) and Preservation and conservation of library documents: A UNESCO/IFLA/ICA inquiry into the current state of the World “s patrimony (Clements, 1987). The UN ESCO’s `Memory of the World programme’ is yet another noteworthy effort concerning to preservation and conservation of heritage materials.

All these activities provide evidence of the serious problem of decaying and disappearing materials on a global scale. Hence, it is the challenge for library and information managers to translate this concern using the knowledge and techniques available into a programme appropriate for the particular task and the information and materials which it wants and needs to preserve.

Preservation can only be successfully managed if it is perceived as a core task throughout the institution and if preservation experts are committed in all activities, including digitization initiatives undertaken in the name of access. It is of paramount importance that the preservation field keeps up the dialogue about the preservation of every initiative. They can bring a perspective of continuity to the discussion and make it clear that there is more to access than documents and images into tiffs and terabytes (LUSEN ET, 1999). (48)

1.3. Techniques Used for Preservation of Library Materials:

Some of the techniques used to preserve rare materials are:

A. Chemical De-acidification:

De-acidification merely arrests deterioration for a while, but if the book is already fragile, it remains so. From a collaborative perspective, if there are multiple copies of an old book scattered around the library, it is likely to be cheaper to film or scan the best available copy once and then reproduce it, than to de-acidify all the copies. In addition microfilming creates a copying master and a bibliographic entry that provide broad access to the information. De-acidification can be done on an item-by-item basis at individual libraries. The cost of page-by-page paper treatment, by spraying a chemical fog on the page, is more than the cost of copying, even for one copy. The costs of this more elaborate preservation technique which require disassembly and rebinding of each item, are basically prohibitive for books that do not have high value as artifacts. Paper preservation and individual book conservation, however, are the only technologies that preserve the original book itself.

B. Microfilming:

Microfilming normally involves producing a roll film master, even if the final version of the book will be on fiche. Microfiche is not considered a preservation format but can be produced from preservation roll film as an access medium. Microfiche can provide random access to a particular frame faster than roll film, and microfiche reading machines are cheaper than microfilm reading machines.

Microfiche has accepted a medium of choice for a microform book catalogue. However, many readers dislike both microfilm and microfiche.

C. Digital imagery:

In digital imagery books is scanned into computer storage, which is a promising alternative process. Storing page images of books permits the rapid transfer of books from library to library. The images can be displayed or printed, much as film images, although with greater cost today. Additionally, digital imagery permits considerable reprocessing: adjustment of contrast, adjustment of image size, and so on. Handling of these images requires special skills and equipment few libraries possess, but there is rapid technological progress in the design of disk drives, displays, and printing devices.

D. ASCII (non-image):

ASCII storage is much more compact; a page of text that will use a few hundred Kbytes in image form will contain only one to two thousand bytes of ASCII, or 11100th of the space. Other advantages of ASCII storage include the ability to reformat and reprint whole or partial documents easily; the ability to extract quotations or other subsections of the documents and include them in newer papers; and the ability to mechanically compare texts. Editing texts for later publication also needs ASCII rather than image storage. More applications such as feeding the texts to speech synthesizers to be read aloud are also possible; ASCII text can also be displayed on a wider variety of equipment and on cheaper equipment. ASCII displays can be formatted for the particular screen size or program environment preferred by the user. The image quality shown does not reflect any fading or discoloration of the original

This Article Collected from:

  • Sarasvathy, P. (2007). Preservation and conservation of rare materials in select libraries in Karnataka a study. Retrieved From: handle/10603/73608

Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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