By DIANNE VAN DER REYDEN
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress, which plays a major leadership role in preserving the nation's collections. This ranges from providing information on best practices to responding to major catastrophes. This article reviews the Library's past, present and future role in collections care and research. For more information about the Preservation Directorate, visit www.loc.gov/preserv/.
Created in 1967, the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress is the oldest and largest library preservation facility in the United States. The directorate's mission is to ensure long-term, uninterrupted access to the intellectual content of the collections of the Library of Congress, either in original or reformatted form. This mission is accomplished through the Preservation Office and its four divisions: Preservation Reformatting, Binding and Collection Care, Conservation, and Preservation Research and Testing.
The Preservation Directorate is responsible for overseeing Library-wide activities relating to the preservation and physical protection of Library material, including the institution's "top treasures"; cost-effective preventive care measures, such as environmental monitoring and emergency mitigation of collections; and critical product testing and quality control programs.
The Preservation Directorate also has a strong outreach program, which provides information about preservation to Congress, government agencies, other libraries (both national and international) and to the general public. It provides programs for Library staff and patrons that raise preservation awareness and increase the level of knowledge about the Library's preservation policies and practices. The directorate also advises on issues pertaining to collection storage areas, such as integrated pest management, and is fully involved in the planning for off-site storage facilities at Fort Meade, Md., and the Library's Packard Campus for audio-visual materials, located in Culpeper, Va. Library materials need to be assessed, stabilized and housed by Preservation Directorate staff before being transferred.
Preserving its growing collections has been a concern of the Library of Congress since its founding in 1800. From minimizing the deterioration of printed matter and improving handling and care procedures to converting paper-based materials to digital formats, the Preservation Directorate has implemented the latest technologies over the past two centuries to help further its mission.
In 1800, Congress established its own Library in the U.S. Capitol building. In August 1814, most of the nascent collection (totaling 3,000 volumes) was lost when the British burned the Capitol. The following year, Thomas Jefferson sold his personal collection of 6,487 books to Congress for $23,950 to restart the congressional library. However, much was lost again when a second fire claimed two-thirds of the collection—some 35,000 volumes—on Christmas Eve in 1851.
Concurrent with the catastrophe of the second swift fire, a so-called "slow fire" was spreading undetected through the collections, caused by the presence of groundwood paper. Beginning in the mid-1800s, papermakers used groundwood pulp to extend yield on new innovative, highly productive papermaking machines. This development was intended to meet increased demands for newsprint and other paper stock, thereby satisfying the demands of increased literacy. Still in use today, groundwood paper becomes extremely acidic from an inherent component called lignin, which, if left unchecked, leads to eventual chemical breakdown of paper, evidenced by discoloration and loss of strength. This internal agent destroys collections as surely as fire or other external agents of deterioration, such as pests, light, or water from floods, leaks or sprinklers.
The Copyright Act of 1870 moved the copyright registration function from the federal courts to the Library of Congress. The requirement to deposit two copies of each copyrighted work in the Library of Congress was a significant factor in the growth of the collection and remains so today (with approximately 1 million copyright deposits transferred to the collection annually). To house, preserve and protect the burgeoning collections, the magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building was constructed and opened to the public in 1897.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Library continued to improve its preservation stewardship. Blinds were installed in the newly constructed Jefferson Building to reduce the deleterious effects of light on collections. In the 1930s, the John Adams Building was constructed to hold the ever-expanding collections, which by the mid-20th century began to include new formats of materials, such as microfilm.
In 1965, a national preservation planning conference jointly sponsored by the Library and the Association of Research Libraries focused on the pressing need to preserve the nation's collections. The issue gained worldwide attention the following year in the wake of the disastrous Florence floods, which destroyed an estimated 1,400 pieces of artwork, 2 million books and numerous artifacts collected in the city's libraries, archives and museums. Thousands of volunteers flocked to the area to help with the recovery effort. Among these "angeli del fango" (mud angels) was Peter Waters, a pioneer rare-book binder who subsequently served as chief of the Library's Conservation Division from 1971 to 1995. The techniques that Waters innovated for the restoration of the National Library in Florence became the basis of the Library of Congress's conservation program.
The Florence floods of 1966 increased preservation awareness and underscored the need for emergency preparedness, which continues today. On May 15, 1967, the Library of Congress consolidated its preservation activities into an organizational unit called the Preservation Office (now the Preservation Directorate) that would be responsible for protecting the collections and extending their useful life. The next few decades focused on the problems associated with microfilming and mass deacidification, such as the need to develop national standards and best practices.
In 1986, the Preservation Office became the headquarters for the International Federation of Library Associations' Preservation and Conservation (IFLA-PAC) Center, a position it held for the next 10 years. In the mid-1990s, the Library became a Regional Center for the IFLA-PAC in North America, when headquarters moved to the National Library of France.
Meanwhile, the Library's collections continued to grow in scope and complexity as the institution acquired a growing number of audio-visual and digital materials. These materials pose preservation challenges such as the flammability of cellulose nitrate film and lack of longevity and durability in the case of digital collections. The Library's Office of Strategic Initiatives is leading the national effort to preserve collections that are "born digital" (through the National Digital Information and Preservation Program) and, in cooperation with the Copyright community, to assess the implications of Section 108 of the Copyright Law on these new technologies (see www.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/).
The growth and aging of unstable collections are a ticking time bomb. Fortunately, much of the Library's recent preservation efforts have concentrated on slowing and defusing the ticking. Since 2000, the Library has undertaken several initiatives to advance preservation of collections. The Preservation Directorate installed a mass deacidification sheet treater to combat deterioration from acid in paper. (Since 1995, the Library has extended the useful life of nearly 1.7 million books and 4 million sheets of manuscript materials from the Library's collections using deacidification technology.)
Work is ongoing to stabilize collections to be moved offsite to low-temperature storage facilities in Culpeper, Va., and Fort Meade, Md. These state-of-the-art facilities provide cost-effective cool and cold storage environments (which slow the deterioration of collections) and, in the case of Culpeper, reformatting (which increases access to information while reducing wear on original formats). Rehousing of collections, increased environmental monitoring and conversion to digital formats have all contributed to the effort.
The Library's preservation experts have responded to man-made and natural disasters, such as terrorist attacks and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Threats such as anthrax contamination have ushered in a new era of complexity for emergency preparedness. These new threats, coupled with the vulnerability of new audio-visual and digital materials, call for new means of risk assessment analysis. Innovative responses are on the horizon, and solutions are possible with the appropriate vision, tools and support. For example, the Preservation Directorate has worked to develop a five-year plan to upgrade 25-year-old equipment in its Preservation Research and Testing Division, which has developed a three-prong preservation research approach focusing on traditional, audio-visual and digital materials.
Last year, the Preservation Directorate completed more than 10,471,368 assessments, treatments, rehousings and reformatting for books, paper, photographs, audiovisual and other collection items. Through the coordinated efforts of the directorate's divisions and programs, more than 7,685,903 items were conserved, mass deacidified, or reformatted—an increase of 7.6 percent over the previous year. The Library took the following actions to preserve its collections:
- Providing care to more than 2.6 million endangered special collection items, with emphasis on the Library's most significant holdings.
- Surveying a total of 197,227 rare and fragile items so they could be stabilized by treatment or rehousing for access, digitization, exhibition, and relocation to off-site storage.
- Housing 2,379,643 items, including the preparation of 14,078 protective boxes; and the cleaning and housing of 15,397 discs, film and magnetic media.
- Rehousing 2,263,059 photographs and 86,696 paper-based items, as well as 418 miscellaneous items.
- Treating 16,449 items from 12 curatorial divisions, including 14,265 paper documents, 784 books, 944 photographs and 506 other format materials.
- Preservation microfilming of 3.3 million exposures (5.8 million pages).
- Deacidifying 298,826 books and 1,069,500 document sheets as part of its Thirty Year (One Generation) Mass Deacidification Plan to stabilize more than 8.5 million general collection books and at least 30 million pages of manuscripts.
- Initiating a new five-year contract for deacidification services that will save 1,250,000 books and more than 5 million sheets of original manuscript materials.
- Using a single-sheet treatment cylinder onsite at the Library to deacidify 4,000 pages per day of non-book, paper-based materials that were too valuable to be transported to the mass deacidification vendor plant near Pittsburgh, Pa.
- Maps. In collaboration with the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Alcoa Foundation, the Preservation Directorate and the Geography and Map Division started the process of creating a permanent, oxygen-free housing for the 16th-century Waldseemüeller Map that depicts the name "America" for the first time in the Western Hemisphere. The map will be displayed in its new housing in 2007.
- Sound recordings. The Library is working with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to convert the analog information on long-playing records (LPs) to digital audio files in a project known as IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.).
- Newspapers. Building on the successful U.S. Newspaper Program, which microfilmed more than 72 million endangered newspaper pages over a 23-year period, the Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities established the National Digital Newspaper Program in 2005. Under this program, six institutions were awarded more than $1.9 million in grants to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers now in the public domain.
Two-year projects in California, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Utah and Virginia each will digitize 100,000 or more pages of each state's most historically significant newspapers published between 1900 and 1910. When the program is completed, the digitized newspapers will be made available through the Library's Web site, and many may now be seen at www.loc.gov/chroniclingamerica/.
A Vision of the Future
Over the next few years, several initiatives will strengthen the Library's position as a leader in 21st century preservation and research. The focus will be on three areas: enhancing storage conditions, stabilizing collections and expanding scientific research.
Enhancing Storage Conditions
The Preservation Directorate is engaged in several projects to ensure optimum storage conditions for collections in all formats. Audio-visual collections are being stabilized for their move to Culpeper, Va. Once fidelity testing is completed on the IRENE machine, it will move to Culpeper to begin production work reformatting 2-D and other laterally recorded audio media such as broken lacquer disks in real time. Concurrently, work continues on development and funding of the next iteration to scan 3-D or vertically recorded media, such as wax cylinders.
The Preservation Directorate will also expand its studies into anoxic (oxygen-depleted) environments. It will test the effectiveness of low-oxygen fire suppression systems to prevent ignition as well as to reduce the deleterious effects of oxidation and suppress biological attacks from mold or insects. A fadometer is testing the efficacy of argon in reducing fading of colorants when exposed to light. The Library will test argon encasements that have been used to house treasures such as a draft of the Gettysburg Address. Testing will also be done on the encasement for the 1507 Waldseemüeller Map.
The Preservation Research and Testing Division will collaborate with the British Library to study volatile organic compounds emissions, using its new direct analysis in real time (DART) mass spectrometer. A new gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GCMS) will be adapted to "sniff out" problems from volatiles emanating at the start of deterioration. The division will directly observe—in real time—the actual effects of temperature and relative humidity on vellum, film and magnetic media using a new environmental scanning electron microscope (E-SEM), to determine optimum storage conditions.
The Conservation Division will continue to collaborate with the contractor, Image Permanence Institute (IPI), to improve environmental monitoring for the Library's buildings through installation of more Preservation Environmental Monitors. Conversion to a Web-based monitoring system will eventually allow desktop monitoring and assessment of storage conditions.
The Preservation Directorate will continue to stabilize all formats of collections. The directorate will recruit interns to assist in the effort. Newer staff members will acquire the skills of senior conservators through the development of computer-based systems currently used to train medical interns. These systems are being adapted to conservation training by a conservation program in the UK, as well as through a proposal submitted to the National Science Foundation in collaboration with the Preservation Directorate. The technology involves computer simulation of conservation treatment techniques that can be combined with Web conferencing for distance learning.
Preservation research will continue to improve knowledge and care of collections for managers in the 21st century. The directorate will make accessible to the general public its list of scholarly publications on materials science, and the history, care and treatment of the Library's collections.
Research and development on Capitol Hill will accelerate as upgraded equipment is installed and calibrated, and scientists come onboard to conduct research into the aging of paper, vellum, CDs and DVDs, as well as to address needs of storage and substrates for modern media (such as holographic or DNA) and solutions for "sticky shed" in magnetic media (such as the use of vacuum ovens).
The Preservation Directorate will increase the dissemination of findings and best practices through lectures and workshops on subjects including salvage and scientific research techniques. The Preservation Research and Testing Division will hold recurring introductions to scientific research methodology to help librarians and curators identify problems and collaborative projects by clarifying scientific protocol and findings.
Building on its successful program to match Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Ph.D. candidates to scientific research projects, the Preservation Directorate will extend its multicultural internship programs to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Tribal Colleges and Universities. By working with students from these programs, the Library improves its understanding and care of diverse cultural heritage collections, while at the same time training and increasing knowledgeable supporters who will become strong advocates for the work and mission of the Library of Congress.
Dianne van der Reyden is the Director for Preservation.
Over the past decade, the Library conducted and participated in a number of major surveys to understand the scope of preservation issues facing the nation's collections.
- Photographs: Supported by a $40,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Library's Preservation Directorate recently completed a comprehensive assessment of the Library's collection of nearly 14 million photographs. The 15-month assessment was adapted from a photograph survey performed at Harvard University in 2003. Findings indicated that in-depth risk and condition assessments are needed to improve storage and increase treatment for the collections.
- HHI Survey. In 2004, the Preservation Heritage Foundation developed the Heritage Health Index Survey to assess nationwide the health of the country's cultural assets (www.heritagepreservation.org/hhi/). Findings from this survey indicated that despite long-term and ongoing dedication to the care of its collections, the Library, like all cultural institutions, still has a large number of collections in need of treatment and preventive conservation measures to ensure long-term use. These numbers will grow with the increase in acquisitions, especially of modern audio-visual and digital media such as magnetic tapes, CDs and DVDs, whose plastic and electronic components render them among the most unstable media.
HHI findings indicate that almost 40 percent of the Library's collections are in need of treatment and/or rehousing in order to be used by scholars, digitized or put on exhibition. Of these, more than 10 percent are at risk of loss if nothing is done. This figure alone represents about 15 million items. If an average of only 15 minutes of work were done for each of these items by staff, each staff member currently employed by the directorate would need to work another 30 years at least. And that does not factor in the collection's continued growth over time, or the probability that 40 percent (or another 30 million) of the items in unknown condition might also need preservation. Consequently, retention of highly trained staff and increased research capabilities are dually critical.
- PPS Surveys. In 2002, a series of Preservation Priority Surveys conducted by the Preservation Directorate ranked approximately 50 collections in almost a dozen divisions based on value, use and risk. Based on the findings of these surveys, resources were allocated to implement action steps to house, treat or reformat collections to enable access.
- PHAWG Survey. In 1997, the Library's Preservation Heritage Assets Working Group Survey categorized collections using metal monikers (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Copper). It identified collection life cycles (during processing, transport, use, storage and exhibition) that require measures to ensure physical security, inventory and preservation. Preservation control measures are moderated according to the category of collection in each life cycle to balance the resources controlling environments, emergencies, storage, handling, treatment, reformatting and assessment.