Preservation Week

The History of Preservation Week

The University of Missouri is celebrating Preservation Week here on campus from April 26-May 1. However, though the idea of celebrating preservation came about as "National Preservation Week" in 1973, it was extended to the entire month of May in 2005 (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2019, para. 2). In October of 1972, the Trustees Advisory Committee on Membership & Public Relations proposed the idea of the National Preservation Week as a “means of relating local and state preservation progress to the national effort for the mutual benefits of both” (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2019, para. 3). The Presidential Proclamation regarding Preservation Month reads, "“As the pace of change accelerates in the world around us, Americans more than ever need a lively awareness of our roots and origins in the past on which to base our sense of identity in the present and our directions for the future" (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2019, para. 3). 

A survey conducted in 2005 stated that "U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items. Libraries alone hold 3 billion items (63 percent of the whole)" (ALA, What is Preservation Week, para. 1). Of those, 630 million need immediate help (ALA, What is  Preservation Week, para. 2). Also according to the 2005 survey, "An estimated 1.3 billion items are at risk"in need of treatment to be stable enough for use, or in need of improved enclosures or environment to reduce the risk and rate of damage" (ALA, Why do we need Preservation Week, 2019, para. 3).

These numbers have most certainly changed over the years as technology has grown and developed, library budgets and staffing have fluctuated, and preservation methods have become obsolete to be replaced by new ones. However, preservation within special collections libraries (and without) still remains a necessary practice within these institutions.

The Necessity of Preservation

According to the American Library Association's website, "Memories and treasures should last a lifetime and be passed on to future generations" (ALA, Why do we need Preservation Week, 2019, para. 13). Many institutions and libraries have their own ways of celebrating Preservation Week or Preservation Month, often doing so with conferences, panels, other participatory programs (libraries on campuses will often offer special programs for students), and other library promotions. Preservation Month is a "way to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections" (ALA, Why do we need Preservation Week, 2019, para. 3). 

Types and Causes of Damage

Preservation and the celebration of it comes from the basic need to take care of the rare books and materials within a special collections institution. Damage to books and other materials can come from all sorts of things, such as the location of the materials in the building, the light in the building, the temperature in the building, and patrons using the materials. Types of damage include broken text block, loose hinges, torn end sheets, red rot leather (also known as redrot), and missing covers (Starmer, 2005, p. 99). Environmental factors, such as insects, mold, water, and dust can also cause damage (Starmer, 2005, p. 99). Other times, patrons will do such things as write in a book with a pencil, ink pen, or highlighter, dog-ear the pages, mark their places with bookmarks, tear pages out, and get food or ink on the paper (Starmer,, 2005, p. 100).

Fixing the Damage

There are several different ways to fix the damage caused by any of the factors listed above, such as rebinding, replacing covers, and doing repairs on the hinges. For special collections institutions especially, "conservation treatments such as binding repairs
and paper mending have been done on a case-by-case basis, as individual
pieces are used or acquired" (Hain, 2003, p. 112). 

Some techniques to aid in the fixing of damage include paper splitting, pulp fills, leaf casting, and mass deacidification (Hain, 2003, pp. 113-114).

Technological Advances in Preservation and the Future

Hain (2003) states that, "Item-level conservation for special collections materials is rooted in traditional skills and techniques that have not changed for many centuries", but that the techniques librarians, preservationists, and conservators use to carry out these skills have developed over time (Hain, 2003, p. 113). A company in Germany has contributed to mechanical paper splitting (Hain, 2003, p. 113), machines and computer programs now guide the processes of leaf casting and and pulp filling (Hain, 2003, p. 114), and dataloggers, the Preservation Calculator, and the Climate Notebook (tools enabling the monitoring of data of libraries' collections) are now used heavily in special collections preservation (Hain, 2003, p. 115). These tools, as well as many others, are enabling special collections libraries to constantly improve their abilities when it comes to monitoring what needs preservation, and preserving rare and valuable items.


American Library Association. (2019). What is Preservation Week? 

American Library Association. (2019). Why do we need Preservation Week? 

Hain, J. (2003). A brief look at recent developments in the preservation and conservation of Special Collections. Library Trends 52(1): 112-117.

National Trust for Historic Preservation. (2019). A Brief History of Preservation Month. 

Starmer, M. E. (2005). Rare condition: Preservation assessment for rare book collections. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, 6(2): 91-106.