An Analysis of Library Preservation Training
for General Library Staff
Jack R. Koenig III
Library preservation is a very complex issue, and one that is very commonly misunderstood. One frequent misconception of library preservation is that it mainly deals with book and paper repair. In fact, those activities would be classified as conservation, rather than preservation, which is a much broader concept. A library preservation department is much more concerned with the prevention of damage than it is with correcting damage that has already occurred. Library preservation includes many facets of library operations including conservation, but also consists of concerns such as pest control, library storage, environmental monitoring, and disaster planning, as well as minor operations such as proper shelving, book damage detection, and other activities that may affect the condition of the collection.
For that reason, effective library preservation is far beyond the scope of one department; it takes the efforts of the entire library community, including its staff and users.
To understand the nature of the dilemma, consider Brian Baird’s synopsis:
“Think about the number of times library staff handles an item before it reaches the shelves to be available to a patron. First, an item is unpacked from the box it was shipped in, then it is processed by acquisitions staff, and then again by cataloging staff. Next, it receives library markings, date due slips, etc. Finally, it may receive some kind of shelf preparation treatment like a dust jacket protector or paperback cover stiffener. If this processing is done in the library the item is then sent to be shelved in the stacks by shelving staff who usually handle the book at least twice before it reaches the shelf. If the processing is done by a library vendor or a service bureau, then the items must be repacked, shipped to the library, unpacked, and then shelved.
Likewise, when an item returns from circulation, circulation staff and shelving staff repeatedly handle it before it is placed on the shelf to begin the process over again. Every time library staff members handle a book they have an opportunity to help preserve the item or to help destroy it.”
Preservation of library materials begins the very second the item is brought into the collection and continues throughout the life of the item. Considering this, it is imperative that training in preservation concepts must be made available to general library staff. Carolyn Clark Morrow writes that one of the most important parts of a well defined library preservation program includes the successful articulation of that program to both the library users and the library staff. This can be accomplished through training and/or awareness programs. In addition, Duane Watson asserts that “an ongoing training program for new and part-time staff and regular review and updating sessions for others are necessary to maintain preservation awareness and a cooperative and coordinated approach to the care and handling of the collections.”
While the idea of preservation training is well emphasized in preservation literature, the reality is that with the variety of tasks a preservation administrator is expected to accomplish, training programs may not get fully developed or implemented. For this study, a questionnaire was sent to preservation administrators to find out what sort of training programs are in place, and to examine how effective they are in educating library staff about preservation concerns.
questionnaire was distributed via email to several preservation administrators
at academic libraries throughout the
The questionnaire consisted of ten questions, related to the preservation training procedures, including how the training is conducted, what preservation concepts are presented, the level of involvement of the preservation staff in the development and conduction of the training, and the effectiveness of the training.
There were a few limitations and drawbacks that had to be accepted as a part of this study. First, only libraries with an active preservation administrator were queried. Preservation administrators are usually only found in large academic and research libraries, and very large public libraries with historic collections, such as the New York Public Library or the Boston Public Library. Smaller libraries are often served by cooperative preservation institutions, such as Dallas-based Amigos or Atlanta-based SOLINET, which provide seminar-based training for libraries that do not have an internal preservation structure.
In addition, responses to questions relating to the effectiveness of the training programs were at the discretion of the preservation administrator. A better indicator of the effectiveness of these programs would have been a survey of individual library staff members. However, this method was not feasible in the time allotted, and the selected method was the best available; the preservation administrator is the best person to make a judgment of the effectiveness of training programs.
distributing the questionnaire by email total of 16 responses were received.
All of the responses were from academic libraries affiliated with universities
The first few questions asked about the training program itself:
1. Does your library provide training in preservation concepts for general (non-preservation) staff?
Of the 16 responses, fourteen libraries responded that they did have a training program in place for preservation.
2. Is this training mandatory for library employees?
Surprisingly, only 3 of the 14 libraries that had training programs in preservation required their staff members to receive the training.
3. How is this training conducted?
The respondent indicated whether the preservation training was a part of new hire orientation, or if it consisted of independent seminars, or both. Two respondents indicated that their preservation training was solely a part of new hire orientation; eight respondents stated that they relied on independent seminar-based training, and the remaining four used both methods.
4. Is this training administered once or is it ongoing (staff are trained periodically)?
Responses to this question indicated that eleven of the 14 libraries with preservation training programs trained their staff on an ongoing basis.
The next two questions determined the level of involvement the preservation department had on the development and implementation of the training programs. For both questions, a Likert scale with four responses was used: Very Involved, Somewhat Involved, Consulted (but not directly involved), and Not Involved were the available responses.
5. How involved is the preservation department in the development of this training?
Of the 14 libraries that responded in the affirmative on the first question, twelve indicated that they were highly involved in the development of the preservation training program. One respondent indicated that they were somewhat involved, and one stated that they were consulted. No respondents claimed that they were excluded from the process.
6. How involved is the preservation department in the conduction of this training?
Twelve libraries indicated that they were very involved in the conduction of the training (the same twelve that responded the same to the previous question). One respondent indicated that they were consulted. The one respondent that stated that they were somewhat involved in the development of the training program indicated that they were not involved at all in the conduction of it.
The next three questions asked for particular aspects of the library’s preservation training program.
7. What preservation concepts are covered in this training program?
Available responses to this question were: book repair, environmental monitoring, damage detection, disaster planning, pest control, proper handling/shelving, and other. The respondents were asked to indicate all that applied to their specific program. Thirteen of the respondents indicated that proper handling/shelving was emphasized. Damage detection, book repair, disaster planning, and pest control received 12, 6, 4, and 3 responses, respectively. No programs indicated that they stressed environmental monitoring. One respondent chose to use the other response and indicated that they trained users for fire extinguisher use and care of photographs and non-paper materials.
8. What sorts of materials are used in this training?
Available responses to this question were: handouts, instructional videos, slide presentations, textbooks, and other. The most popular materials were handouts, with twelve of the respondents using them in their presentations. Slide presentations received five confirmations; videos, four; and textbooks, only one. One respondent chose to use the other response and indicated that they used live demonstrations as well.
Question 9 asked about the effectiveness of instructional videos. However, as only four of the respondents used videos, the response rate on this question was very low, and therefore inconclusive.
10. How effective is your library’s overall preservation training program?
The final question asked the respondents to rate their overall program for effectiveness. Available responses were: highly effective, somewhat effective, adequate, and not effective. Two respondents gave their program the highest rating, “somewhat effective” and “adequate” garnered six responses each, and there were no “not effective” responses.
The study showed that in many cases, preservation training in some form is occurring in libraries. I had anticipated a lower affirmative response rate to the first question. However, as encouraging as it is to know that this is happening, the fact that very few of the libraries that have training programs in place make them mandatory for staff is puzzling. It would seem that for preservation administrators to take the efforts to develop these programs and get them implemented without ensuring that they are mandated for the general staff is a waste of time.
It was also encouraging to note the very high level of involvement of preservation professionals in the planning and implementation of these programs. I had anticipated a much lower response rate here as well; my expectation was that most preservation training efforts were left up to library human resource management.
The concepts presented in each program were not surprising; the two vital aspects for general staff to know, proper handling and shelving, and damage detection were well represented. The other concepts are extras that are useful for a whole staff to be familiar with, but not essential.
Given this, I was surprised to see the lackluster effectiveness ratings for these programs. It could be possible that the staff may not be benefiting from the training because it is not mandatory, or possibly because the preservation administrators see the program as incomplete. I received many comments along with the responses that indicated that the libraries were planning on developing more robust training. In fact, both of the negative responses came with a note that developing a program was on a very short to-do list.
One particular respondent to this study offered training in all of the areas which were on the questionnaire, and included several more, including fire extinguisher operation, mold detection and remediation, construction of protective enclosures, and care of photographs and non-traditional materials. In addition, this library used many materials including all mentioned on the questionnaire, as well as Web sites and live demonstrations. The library noted high involvement in the development and conduction of the program. This particular library had obviously worked very hard at developing, implementing and emphasizing the regimen, and it has apparently paid off; their preservation administrator gave the program a very high effectiveness rating.
The level of preservation training is higher than I anticipated going into this study, but it is apparent that many of the respondents wish to go further to improve the efficiency of their training programs. It is only by examining exemplary programs, like the one described earlier, to determine what is effective, and the correct way to proceed.
Baird, Brian J. Preservation Strategies for Small Academic and Public Libraries.
Morrow, Carolyn Clark, “Defining
the Library Preservation Program:
Policies and Orgnization,” Preservation: Issues and Planning. pp. 1-27. Paul N. Banks, ed.
Watson, Duane A., “Collection and
Stack Management,” Preservation: Issues and Planning. pp. 145-158. Paul N. Banks, ed.