Although the image of the library conservator or preservation professional may be that of a person patiently performing careful, delicate, even tedious conservation treatments,
there is another important dimension to our work — one that may not be apparent to the casual observer.
We are also number crunchers!
In fact, the wise use of resources is absolutely fundamental to the work of preserving library collections — especially in research libraries committed to the permanent retention of vast collections built over decades and centuries:
“Faced with the magnitude of preservation needs in libraries, the constant growth and aging of collections, and the proliferation of new information formats, preservation managers are motivated to use every available strategy to maximize resources in order to accomplish preservation goals.[i]”
The whole idea of preservation, after all is economy – making sure that what we have stays around in useable form for as long as it is needed.
So, in honor of David Letterman’s retirement this year, here are the top ten ways that costs factor into the preservation of library collections. I use the term “costs” broadly, encompassing both the management strategies that ensure efforts are directed where they are most needed and have the greatest impact, as well as the true bean counting activities we engage in for a host of planning purposes.
Top Ten Ways that Costs Factor into the Preservation of Library Collections
- We prioritize our efforts according to the library’s mission and collection development goals.
- We focus on preventing damage and slowing the rate of deterioration — actions that benefit all the collections and have the greatest impact — before devoting resources to individual item treatments.
- We determine which materials are at highest risk/greatest need according to a decision matrix of condition, use, and research value.
- We gather data about the preservation needs of the collections via condition surveys as a basis for resource planning and batching work for efficiency.
Then we conduct cost analyses and time studies to:
- Compare the costs and effectiveness of different methods of accomplishing work, e.g., in-house vs. outsourced
- Project costs for budget planning, developing new programs, and preparing grant applications
- Calculate which product is least expensive (when the stock sizes or quantity discounts are not the same from vendor to vendor)
We also consider:
- The opportunity costs of different choices. What won’t we be able to do if we do this?
- The cost of neglecting the preservation of the collections
- Lastly, we recognize that preservation is a necessary activity because the collections are a research library’s capital assets, acquired, organized, and made accessible at great expense!
[i] Elise Calvi, Yvonne Carignan, Liz Dube, and Whitney Pape. The Preservation Manager’s Guide to Cost Analysis. Chicago: Preservation and Reformatting Section, Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, 2006, p. 1.