Related product Collections Management

Archival Preservation 101: Funding for Preservation Activities

Ellen Keith, Director of Research and Access and Chief Librarian, Chicago History Museum

Preservation work has funding needs just like any other library activity. This article focuses on both big-ticket items and ongoing costs associated with preservation. To understand the resources needed, I reached out to two of my colleagues at the Chicago History Museum (CHM): Colleen McGaughey,* Head of Institutional Giving, and Liz Sorokin, Conservator for Paper and Photographs. Please note that aside from one estimate, dollar amounts are not being applied. Instead, the focus is on where institutions need grant funding and where they need to build in operating costs.

Big-ticket items

As CHM’s grants manager, Colleen shared what she seeks for grant funding: HVAC, physical storage, and digital preservation costs. Demonstrating a scope of work that will ensure success is essential.  Colleen shepherded CHM through three NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grants to upgrade the HVAC. She did this by segmenting the work to show significant progress in each iteration, making it compelling to fund. To Colleen, investing in planning and collections assessment is the groundwork needed. Showing funders what makes your collections significant and how preservation work makes them more accessible goes a long way in making your case. That holds true for the other big-ticket items, physical storage and digital preservation costs. CHM received funding to renovate the collections storage space for the archival and architecture holdings. Preservation concerns for this space included environmental needs (this storage space is underground) and compact shelving. Compact shelving aids in preservation by allowing the institution to not only have more materials on-site and provide room for growth, but also provide additional flat space for material that had been in tubes. Again, attention to these concerns makes an excellent case for funding. Digital preservation costs are more challenging because of the ongoing costs associated. Funding for servers can be written into proposals, but cloud storage and digital asset management costs need to be added to operating budgets.

Ongoing costs

In terms of running a conservation lab, Liz notes the two primary costs are qualified personnel and materials/tools. In Liz’s words, a bare-bones paper lab would include wheat starch paste, Japanese tissue, blotter paper, some acrylic paint and a clean table and she anticipates that the ongoing costs of supplies would be $2,000 per year. The overhead is more substantial: a conservator’s salary and construction of a safe and stable lab. The investment in trained staff, however, makes more financial sense than if a contract conservator needs to be hired repeatedly. That cost can be as much as $125 per hour. Still, a single conservator may not have expertise in all the materials contained by a library (books, paper, and photographs) so the occasional hiring of a specialist needs to be factored into the costs.
Both Colleen and Liz emphasize the need for broad strategies that consider preservation needs prior to acquisition rather than being reactive and approaching preservation at the item level.

*Colleen has since left CHM for a position at the National Public Housing Museum.

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