Celebrating Preservation Week 2020: The Foundation

April 28, 2020
Annie Matthys
Handling a photo negative with Nitrile gloves.

Welcome to Preservation Week 2020 (April 26th - May 2nd), a milestone for the event (an initiative of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services), as this is its 10th year!  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are - physically - separated from one another and the collections of our institution(s), so our method of celebration may take a different - completely online - form, but the goal remains the same: to work toward preservation awareness for our colleagues, patrons, and beyond. And since working from home has allowed us to explore and take advantage of online professional development opportunities and resources to a much larger extent, what better time than now to build a solid foundation of preservation knowledge?

So, “Let’s start at the very beginning -- a very good place to start,” to quote the opening line of “Do, Re, Mi” from The Sound of Music. For us the “beginning” will be with preventive preservation (also called preventive conservation). Preventive preservation could be considered our first line of defense in the long term preservation of materials, and is defined by Jeffrey Levin, of the Getty Conservation Institute, as: “...any measure that prevents damage or reduces the potential for it. It focuses on collections rather than individual objects, nontreatment rather than treatment. In practical terms, the handling, storage, and management of collections (including emergency planning) …."

To firmly ground you in the broad range of topics that “preventive preservation” encompasses, we have highlighted a few select resources that cover many of its critical aspects. The resources are divided into categories and come from a variety of well-known institutions, and their formats span the range from online textbooks to recorded webinars.


Crash Course
One of the best places to start your journey is with the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s Preservation 101: Preservation Basics for Paper and Media Collections. This online textbook truly touches upon the breadth and depth of preservation and will serve as an excellent supplement to many of the other resources listed below. Of special note is “Session 8, Emergency Preparedness,” to more fully understand all of the factors that go into planning and preparing for collections emergencies.

Preservation 101


Agents of Deterioration

If you asked the question, “What are we protecting our collections from?” the answer would be, “The Agents of Deterioration”! This webpage from the Government of Canada offers excellent introductions to each of the 10 Agents of Deterioration (and far more extensive reading on each, for those who are feeling particularly ambitious).

Agents of Deterioration from Government of Canada


A millipede and spider caught in a glue trap in the processing of monitoring collection spaces.



During your overview of the Agents of Deterioration, you will probably notice a few you are already familiar with in regards to the role they play in the preservation of collection materials, most notably being incorrect temperature and incorrect relative humidity. Both of these factors feature prominently in discussions of an adequate preservation environment and play critical roles in ensuring materials have long, useful lives. Maintaining a preservation environment is, however, a multifaceted issue, and the recorded webinar “Preventive Conservation and the Role of the Environment,” from the Image Permanence Institute, provides an excellent overview of the topic:

*Note: You will be asked to enter information to register to view this recorded webinar.

"Preventive Conservation and the Role of the Environment"


A data logger is used to monitor environmental conditions in collection spaces.


One area in which everyone can contribute to the preservation of materials is proper handling. Without adherence to best practices when handling different material types, we run the risk of exerting unnecessary physical force that can damage items, and, in some cases, handling errors can have lasting effects on their overall stability (such as photographs eventually showing signs of damage as a result of deposits from the oils on your skin). The British Library has produced several instructional videos on proper handling of a variety of material types:

British Library Resources: “How to handle” videos for several material types:


Handling a photo negative with Nitrile gloves.


Additionally, the University of Illinois Library Special Collections Division has produced a video on the handling of historic newspapers:

Handling Historical Newspapers


Mold isn’t just a threat to collections, but also to human health. Many of the preventive measures the Preservation Department takes, such as - but not exclusively - environmental monitoring, are to ensure that conditions are unfavorable for mold growth. What factors contribute to a mold outbreak? What actions will the Preservation Department take if Libraries staff identifies a moldy item? These questions are addressed in the Connecting to Collections Care (Foundation for Advancement in Conservation) recorded webinar “Mold!” Many additional resources are also available on the webpage:

*Note: Viewing this webinar will require Adobe Connect.



Mold and insect damage to paper materials.


Food and Special Events in Libraries/Archives/Museums
Exhibits and special events are important opportunities to showcase collections and underscore the vital work of libraries, archives, and museums. When planning these events, there are many things to consider, from floral decorations to food service, and certainly managing the risk to collections will be at the forefront of your mind. Connecting to Collections Care’s (Foundation for Advancement in Conservation) recorded webinar "Protecting Collections During Special Events" provides many considerations and resources such as example policies to aid in planning safe and successful events.

*Note: Viewing this webinar will require Adobe Connect.

"Protecting Collections During Special Events"

And last but not least: food in libraries, archives, and museums. It is an unavoidable factor, as staff lounges, snacking students, special events, or in-house cafes will always be a part of these spaces. But what best practices can we employ to mitigate our risks? Connecting to Collections Care’s (Foundation for Advancement in Conservation) recorded webinar "Beyond 'No Food or Drink in the Gallery': Food Management Strategies for the Real World" is an extremely thorough overview of the topic, replete with recommendation and sample policies.

*Note: Viewing this webinar will require Adobe Connect.

"Beyond 'No Food or Drink in the Gallery': Food Management Strategies for the Real World"


Happy Preservation Week! May these resources provide you with a solid foundation in preventive preservation and further inform your own day-to-day practices, be they with collections you are privileged to work with or at home, with personal collections. If your interest has been piqued, we hope you will enjoy a deeper dive into preservation topics with an additional, forthcoming blog this week.

For more professional development resources as they relate to preservation, please contact a member of the Preservation Department staff.