Digital Scholar Bytes: Preservation Week

From April 28 – May 4,  Core: Leadership, Infrastructure, Futures (a division of the American Library Association) is celebrating Preservation Week. Throughout the week, Core will be sponsoring several webinars exploring topics relevant to preservation policies and practices. The purpose of the week is to encourage the preservation of cultural artifacts and to highlight the vital role that libraries and other cultural institutions play in providing ongoing preservation education and information. This year’s Preservation Week theme is “Preserving Identities.” The honorary chair for 2024 is Traci Sorell, an author and award winning audiobook narrator and producer. Her mission is to enrich the literary landscape with stories that affirm the existence and vitality of Native Nations and their citizens. Sorrel is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and lives in Oklahoma.

Origin of Preservation Week

A national survey conducted in 2005 by the Heritage Health Index revealed over 4.8 billion items in need of preservation were held by surveyed institutions, with many in need of preservation. The enormous number of various objects and images in various formats cataloged in this survey, revealed to the American Library Association (ALA) the need to focus on this issue more specifically. Consequently, in May 2010, ALA launched Preservation Week to spotlight these preservation challenges within and beyond the library community. For these events, Core has offered webinars discussing topics as diverse as preserving family recipes to sustainability practices in storage facilities. 

Some Issues in Preservation

The topic of preservation encompasses a range of crucial issues deserving thorough discussion. 

National Archives

Staffing. A significant challenge in the field is the widespread lack of resources among institutions, which limits their ability to undertake necessary preservation work.  Staffing continues to be an issue in the preservation field, which is underscored by statistics provided by Core that show “80% of US libraries, museums, and archives have no paid staff for collections care; 22% have no staff at all for this important function. 71% of institutions say they need additional training and expertise to care for their collections.” Furthermore, adequate training is essential since research shows that 44% of human related damage to delicate materials comes from handling. Last, Core also reported that 40% of those surveyed did not have any funds appropriated for their preservation needs.

Storage. Adequate storage remains a critical concern within the preservation community, as many materials require specific environmental conditions to prevent deterioration. Some basic tips provided by the ALA include: climate controlled environments (no heat or humidity), acid-free boxes/folders, and safe kinds of plastic like polyethylene and polypropylene (not PVC). Ensuring that materials are not exposed to direct sunlight, mitigating pest problems, and protecting materials that cannot be exposed to certain types of light, are other important factors to consider when housing items in need of preservation. Unfortunately, these conditions can be expensive and onerous for institutions to maintain. Moreover, sustainability concerns exist when attempting to create a safe environment for materials needing preservation, including with the energy required to maintain a climate controlled environmental environment and in the materials used to create “custom protective enclosures.” Given these issues, it is no wonder that Core reports that 1.3 billion items are at risk, many in urgent need of better enclosures or improved environmental conditions to slow their rate of damage.


Disaster Plans. The preservation of materials during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, or during global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, is a crucial concern in the preservation field. Alarmingly, 58% of libraries lack written emergency or disaster plans for their collections, and an additional 18% have plans but fail to train staff adequately for their implementation. Effective disaster planning can significantly protect library collections; for instance, ten libraries in California successfully avoided or minimized collection damage due to well-developed disaster plans. The American Library Association and the Library of Congress provide resources on how to handle materials damaged by disasters, including best practices for drying and restoring wet materials. Additionally, during such crises, local libraries often extend their role to provide essential services, such as distributing COVID-19 tests or aiding patrons with emergency information, while also safe-guarding collections that hold substantial community value. The broad range of responsibilities that libraries shoulder during disasters underscores the critical need for effective disaster preparedness plans.

Digital Preservation. Digital preservation presents a significant challenge for information professionals who are constantly seeking innovative ways to ensure the longevity of their collections.  Unfortunately, a pervasive lack of resources for preservation activities is a major obstacle for institutions considering digitization projects to safeguard their collections for future generations. Moreover, technological limitations such as file format incompatibility, storage disk obsolescence, and the general decay of technology over time, are all serious issues institutions must consider and plan for when digitizing materials. Core provides some helpful tips on preservation methods including making copies of photographs both physical and in different file formats, saving emails as text files, and using rewritable discs when storing any material. 

In conclusion, Preservation Week highlights the ongoing concerns of librarians and archivists in preserving our cultural heritage. This year’s event promises to maintain this tradition, offering a rich agenda that highlights the pressing needs and innovative solutions in the field of preservation.

Jacob Asch is a Graduate Library Preprofessional (GLP) in the Catholic University of America Libraries.

Further Reading

Preservation Week. 

Library of Congress. The Deterioration and Preservation of Paper: Some Essential Facts.

Syracuse University. How Libraries Can Prepare for Natural Disasters and Preserve Community History.

Core: Leadership Infrastructure Futures. 

Library of Congress. Preservation. Emergency Management. 

Catholic University Mullen Library. Digital Scholar Bytes: World Digital Preservation Day: Safeguarding Our Digital Heritage. 

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