Related product Collections Management

We’re All in This Together - Communicating the Value of Preservation to Users and Stakeholders

Meghan Ryan, National Louis University

Library materials are a shared resource. So, the importance of preservation awareness and proper care of materials cannot be understated since they will ultimately impact user and stakeholder activities such as research and instruction. There are a few ways to communicate the value of preservation to users. One approach is to develop and implement policies and procedures for the use of library materials and to make those policies accessible. In some environments, such as in archives and special collections, making sure users have read and understood proper protocols is key.  Policies can clarify that the use of library material supports preservation activities and is based on the department’s preservation goals. Outreach activities are another way to raise preservation awareness. Garnering interest in library preservation activities through exhibits or social media can be fun and creative ways to get the word out. Exhibits, tutorials, and social media posts can showcase the ways in which preservation activities are critical to ensuring that library materials will be used by future generations. 

Developing policies that specify proper treatment of library materials is a great way to not only be consistent, but also convey the importance of preservation to users and stakeholders, especially when dealing with the realities of less than desirable environmental conditions. Handling of materials can impact their condition and structure; therefore, proper practices are necessary. In order to articulate these practices to users, it is critical for a preservation program to develop a solid policy and create a statement about how to care for library materials. In an archives and/or special collections environment specifically, policies should outline “handling and care” instructions that are made visible to users in some capacity. In addition, they should communicate that these practices are mandatory since the materials are rare or unique and are difficult or impossible to replace. Examples of what to include in a “handling and care” section can include, but are not limited to:

  • Staff will retrieve materials from the stacks and re-shelve them. 
  • Materials may not be removed from the building at any time. 
  • Researchers must use pencil if taking handwritten notes. 
  • All users must wear gloves when handling photographic materials. 
  • No food or drink near collection materials. 
  • Make sure your hands are clean. 
  • Keep materials on a flat surface. 

A policy with these specific instructions would be difficult to implement across the board for all library materials, and is not necessary. Items from a library’s main circulating collection are likely easier to replace; therefore, a fee for items returned damaged or lost would be one way to encourage proper handling. Also, it is a good idea to make these policies visible to users by adding them to your library’s website.

Another way to convey the importance of preservation of library materials to users and stakeholders is through outreach. For example, online tutorials and exhibits can showcase preservation practices and how the implementation of procedures can benefit library materials. Tutorials can demonstrate how these materials are used and shared, the various ways one may contribute to the degradation of the material, how to prevent it, and how library funds may be used to replace damaged items. Exhibits can be a great way to present a library’s preservation methodologies by showing specific activities, such as creating housing for materials and which tools are used. Exhibits are also an opportunity to display before and after images of treatments- showing the user the impact of preservation practices. 

Using social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or department blogs, is another way to communicate the value of preservation. For example, Northwestern University Library’s Preservation Instagram has a great mix of highlights from their collections and various ways they are working to preserve their materials. For more ideas about spreading the word about preservation awareness to users and stakeholders, the Association of Library Collections & Technical Services (ALACTS, a division of the American Library Association) has some ideas on their Preservation Week page. While Preservation Week is a preservation awareness campaign that typically takes place at the end of April, many of the ideas can be implemented year round!


Association of Library Collections & Technical Services. Preservation Week.
nul_prescons. NU Library Preservation: Preservation and Conservation at Northwestern University [Instagram posts]. 

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