Preservation Education in the 21st Century
Date: May 15-16, 2008
History and Background: In 2004 the first systematic national survey of the condition of collections in US libraries, archives, and museums documented the preservation needs of our cultural and intellectual heritage (http://www.heritagepreservation.org/HHI/summary.html ). These institutions hold at least 4.8 billion items. Libraries alone hold 3 billion items, of which an estimated 1.3 billion are at risk. Archives and museums have hundreds of millions of additional at-risk items. These include traditional books, manuscripts, photographs, prints, and drawings, and other text and art on paper or other materials, such as parchment maps, pith paper paintings and textile thangkas. They include images and sound recordings in many film and magnetic tape formats in performing arts, oral history, sound recordings, motion picture, and similar collections. Their body of digital formats such as CDs, DVDs, and device drives is rapidly expanding. Eighty percent of these institutions dedicate no paid staff to collections care, and 22 percent have no staff at all for this important function. Approximately 80 percent have no plan for, or staff trained to respond to, collections emergencies, whether those are occasioned by small local events or disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Seventy-one percent of institutions report needing additional training and expertise to care for their collections.
Digital technology offers unparalleled benefits for broad and convenient access, rapid communication, creativity, and even the protection of vulnerable items by limiting their exposure to use. In response, many decision makers, faced with economic constraints, have shifted preservation resources towards creation and protection of digital materials. Compounding the challenge, rapidly changing technology and poorly understood cycles of deterioration have exposed the ephemeral nature of digital media. As a result, strategies for its long-term preservation remain unproved. Consequently, our digital age demands radical change in approaches to collections preservation. We must find effective ways to balance the crucial need for digital preservation and access against the need to address other deteriorating collections. Preventive conservation, innovative training approaches, knowledge of a broad range of materials, and multi-cultural stewardship issues must all play roles. Many models of education and training, however, remain focused on earlier conventions for preservation and conservation: formal training programs offer what interested students are willing to pay for; the model of conservation training has strong roots in the care of art objects; the field has found it difficult to attract students representing cultural diversity; and curriculum and practice for digital preservation are nascent.
Historical efforts of the Library of Congress since the 1966 Florence Flood, combined with the Library’s strengths in staff and other resources, make the Library a recognized leader in the network of collections preservation. Efforts since the 2005 Hurricane Season have brought together preservation leaders from academic training programs, consortia, professional organizations, and funding agencies to consider “Future Directions in Document Preservation,” focusing on emergency preparedness and national strategic preservation planning. Recommendations from two prior symposia of preservation leaders have been integrated into long-term strategic planning. Now discussions concerns preservation and conservation education have been added.
Program Description and Goals: On May 15-16, 2008, the Library convened approximately 60 preservation and conservation leaders and employers responsible for the preservation of document collections in libraries, archives and museums in the US and abroad. As managers responsible for their nations’ cultural patrimony, their charge was to work together to synthesize and distill their cumulative experience and vision to identify preservation education priorities for the 21st century. The program used a combination of focus groups and discussion to address four themes crucial to the future of preservation, including:
- How do we improve preservation training using the latest innovations in education and technology?
- What should we teach new conservators and preservation professionals to equip them to meet the needs of today's collections, particularly at-risk, modern, and indigenous collections?
- Who should be trained as preservation and conservation professionals, and how can we better reach new audiences, especially in under-served communities?
- How might we better ensure the availability of resources to cover tomorrow's preservation needs?
Participants: Participants were graduates of one of five North American conservation graduate training programs or the equivalent. They were specialists in book, paper, photo, special media or preventive conservation, conservation administration or science. They were preservation educators and employers in, for example, museums (Smithsonian, MOMA, Met, NGA, BMF, SF-MOMA, PMA, Chicago Field Museum, Walters Art Gallery, Hadley, etc.), libraries (Yale, Harvard, Cornell, UT-Austin, Pepperdine, Morgan, Folger, Brigham Young, Johns Hopkins), and archives and other agencies, such as NARA and the George Eastman House. Foreign representatives included Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
Outcomes: Cultural stewards are better connected to the preservation needs of 21st-century collections in libraries, archives, museums, and related institutions. Symposium results included: 1) a charter of principles for a national strategy for education and training, 2) a proceedings document that includes the meeting’s findings and recommendations, and 3) a provisional strategy for follow-up, with goals, objectives, and next steps.
Support: This symposium was funded primarily by a generous grant from The Getty Foundation to the Library of Congress. It was co-sponsored by the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress and members of the International Federation of Library Associations' Preservation and Conservation North American Network, including Yale University and Pepperdine University Libraries; the Kilgarlin Center for the Preservation of the Cultural Record, University of Texas at Austin School of Information; and Preservation Programs, National Archives and Records Administration.
Report of the Preservation-Future Directions Symposium: Preservation Education in the 21st Century, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, May 15-16, 2008, final project report to The Getty Foundation. [PDF: 202 KB / 28 p.].
Symposium: Education Key to Preserving National Heritage, reprints a report about the symposium as it appeared in The Gazette, an internal publication of the Library of Congress, June 6, 2008.