Related product Collections Management

Preservation Week - Interview with Moriah Caruso

This interview took place before library closures due to COVID-19.

Logo ALA Preservation Week April 26 through May 2, 2020

An Interview with Moriah Caruso, co-chair, ALCTS/PARS Preservation Outreach Committee, Digital Preservation Librarian, University of Washington Libraries

Meghan Ryan, Special Collections and Cataloging Librarian, National Louis University
February 28, 2020

For 2019-2020, the CARLI Preservation Committee is sharing a series of interviews with preservation managers, conservators, and other library specialists who graciously described their experiences on preservation and conservation topics of interest to CARLI libraries. Recently, Meghan Ryan, Special Collections and Cataloging Librarian at National Louis University, asked Moriah Caruso, the co-chair of the Preservation Outreach Committee a committee of the Preservation and Reformatting Section of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) to share information about Preservation Week, an initiative of the association.

Interview with Moriah Caruso on Preservation Week:

Can you tell us about the goals of Preservation Week and how it came about?

Preservation Week is a week-long opportunity to inspire action to preserve collections. These collections are found in libraries, archives, and museums, of course, but also are represented by the items held and loved by individuals, families, and communities. Preservation Week activities also raise awareness of the role libraries and other cultural institutions play in providing sound preservation information.

Individually and as community partners, libraries, museums, and archives are encouraged to do at least one thing, even if it’s small, to celebrate Preservation Week. It is the one week out of the year where we try to focus attention and energy on preserving collections.

Preservation Week was really spurred on by a growing awareness and concern for at-risk items in cultural heritage institutions’ collections.

In 2005, the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections reported that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items. When the survey was repeated in 2014, this number had grown to over 14 billion, plus 30.7 million cubic feet and 32.6 million linear feet of collections and 387 million TB of digital information.

From these surveys, some of the most urgent needs in cultural heritage institutions were identified as:

  • Improving environmental storage conditions. Poor storage conditions can cause faster aging, degradation, and loss. In 2014, 49% of surveyed institutions indicated a need for greater environmental controls, and 56% attributed damage or loss to water or moisture.
  • More emergency planning and disaster response training. Without a plan and adequate training, more collections are likely to be damaged in response to disasters. In 2014, 42% of institutions reported having an emergency or disaster plan, but only 24% reported having both an emergency plan and staff trained to carry it out. Increasing impacts from climate change and extreme weather events have taught us that adequate preparation is essential, even while collections’ impacts may be unavoidable.
  • Hiring or designating and training staffing. Especially given the wide variety of materials needing care in many collections, without a designated and trained staff member with preservation training, collections may not be available for use or exhibit, and are more vulnerable to damage and deterioration.  In 2014, only 29% of institutions reported having paid, part-time or full-time preservation staff.

While the survey results suggest progress has been made in building the capacity of collecting institutions to care for collections, more than 50% of respondents cited the need for improvements in finding aids, condition assessments, environmental controls, staff training, treatment, and the preservation of digital collections. Digital objects in all collections are growing fast, in rapidly changing formats with hardware and software dependences that cause them to quickly become difficult to access if not entirely unusable without expert intervention.

What these surveys and statistics do not reflect are the treasure trove of important objects held by individuals, families, and communities. These collections include books, photographs, drawings, textiles, paintings, furniture, and more. They include digital files, moving images and sound recordings that capture performing arts, oral history, and other unique records of human creativity and history.

Recognizing the needs stressed by the Heritage Health Index survey, ALA and its Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) inaugurated national collections Preservation Week, May 9-15, 2010, along with national partners that include the Library of Congress, Institute of Library and Museum Services, American Institute for Conservation, Society of American Archivists, and Heritage Preservation.

Preservation Week was created in 2010 to help advocate for, and raise awareness about, the preservation needs of collections found in libraries, archives, and museums. It has turned into a great time for these cultural heritage professionals to connect with communities about their own collections, to provide accurate advice and information about how to take care of family treasures, and to provide an opportunity to highlight an institution’s collections and/or work in preservation. Each year we adopt a theme, invite an honorary chair, and produce a few new webinars around that theme as well.

Over 60 institutions reported hosting a Preservation Week event during the inaugural year ranging from a temporary exhibit in the American Museum of Radio and Electricity in Bellingham, Washington on preserving some of their treasures, to The Beaufort County Library in Beaufort South Carolina creating a small display and handing out literature. The Toledo Library had a speaker give a one-hour program on Preserving your memories at home, and UC San Diego held a half-day drill to review collection recovery procedures. High school students in Nogales, Arizona prepared and presented stories on family mementos or collectibles of personal significance.

How did you become involved with Preservation Week?

I first became involved with Preservation Week as a Library staff member at the University of Washington Libraries and a graduate student at the University’s iSchool. That year, I planned my Library’s Preservation Week events, including group viewings of webinars, in-person forums, and other associated events.

What is this year’s theme and how is that chosen?

Preservation Week 2020 will be held from April 26 - May 2, 2020, and this year’s theme is “Preserving Oral History.” Institutions and individuals around the world can use the hashtag #preswk to talk about their preservation programs and services.

The theme is chosen by members of the ALA ALCTS Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS) Preservation Outreach Committee. The Preservation Outreach Committee develops, facilitates, maintains and expands preservation-focused outreach and service on behalf of ALCTS – PARS through the Preservation Week and Preservation in Action initiatives.

How many libraries participate each year?

There are so many ways to participate in Preservation Week, it is hard to give just one number! Our free webinars usually have around 500 registered viewers apiece during Preservation Week, and the ALCTS Preservation YouTube channel provides free, open, and on-demand access to these webinars after the initial viewing. Searching or following the active #preswk hash tag on social media can give another view into international participation from individuals, communities, and cultural heritage institutions of all kinds.

Many of our members do not have full-time preservation librarians (staff). What are some simple activities libraries can do to participate?

We have a whole section on the website to answer this question! A motto of Preservation Week, especially relevant in these times when resources always feel strained, is to “Do just one thing.” This could be very simple things like putting a Preservation Week banner on your homepage or printing out some of our freely available bookmarks and handouts and putting them at a public service desk. You could also encourage young readers (or readers of all ages!) to join the “Be Kind to Books Club.” Host a film screening of a restored film. Share quick Preservation tips with your patrons or colleagues.

Are there resources available to help libraries to plan a program, event, or share information about preservation activities?

Yes! The Preservation Week website is a treasure trove of ideas.  A great place to start is our Event Planner section. It has even more event ideas than I outlined above, links to free webinars, an event planning checklist, publicity templates, and even a document that can help you do an evaluation after your event.  Our Event Toolkit provides printable handouts and bookmarks with preservation tips, PSAs and official logos. Other areas of the website offer brief and in-depth recommendations on “Saving Your Stuff” including audio, books, data and digital items, paper, film, photos, scrapbooks, slides, and textiles. There are multi-lingual Preservation resources. We highlight Preservation concerns of different communities, like our extensive section on Preservation for Military Families, and Preservation for Kids. Long story short, visit the Preservation Week website and see for yourself!

Who is this year’s honorary chair and what is their role?

Here’s the text of our press release:

Bestselling author, educator and cultural critic Roxane Gay is teaming up with the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), to share her years of experience as a writer, storyteller and social commentator during Preservation Week, April 26 – May 2, 2020. A recurrent contributor to a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Gay writes about cultural, political and social issues.

Author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger, Gay is a leading voice in modern feminism and numerous social justice movements. Her oral and written accounts of the current social and political climate, along with her active online presence, make her the ideal honorary chair to support the 2020 Preservation Week theme of “Preserving Oral History.”

“Preserving our cultural history is as important now as it has ever been,” Roxane states. “We are living in a time of great social turmoil, but this is not the first time the world has seen such upheaval, nor will it be the last. We know this because of preservation, because storytelling is such an integral part of social justice movements, and librarians have been committed to preserving those stories and other artifacts from these movements. I am honored to serve as this year's Preservation Week Honorary Chair as the very people who will preserve the stories of how the world is currently responding to injustice, gather to learn, connect and remember.”

As Preservation Week 2020 Honorary Chair, Gay will appear in Preservation Week artwork and will chronicle preservation efforts through various social media channels. You can also follow her on Twitter with @rgay and connect with her on Facebook at as she discusses pertinent social and cultural issues.

Is there any additional information about Preservation Week we should know?

It is Preservation Week’s 10th anniversary this year! We have come a long way, but still have plenty of work to do to continue to raise awareness and inspire action to preserve personal, family, and community collections, as well as those stewarded by libraries, archives and museums. Happy Preservation Week!

Return to Preservation Interviews: Learning from our Collective Experiences, the homepage of the Preservation Committee's 2019-2020 Annual Project.