Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Preservation Education: The Curriculum

Preservation Education Curriculum: An Introduction to Preservation. Andover, MA: Northeast Document Conservation Center, 2008.

Reviewed by Bernadette G. Callery

It is no surprise that the Preservation Education Curriculum, the recent publication of the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), is thorough, well-designed and up-to-date, given that the organization has been in the business of providing preservation information through publications, workshops and conservation services since 1973. The curriculum was designed by an advisory committee composed of all the usual suspects in preservation education and field tested through an IMLS grant between NEDCC and Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science to develop “a preservation curriculum for 21st century librarians.” The publication is also available in an online form at Corrections and updates will be made to the online version.

What is surprising is the range of topics covered in this curriculum – a far cry from the basic information on recommended environmental conditions for collection storage and the diagrams of simple repair techniques that often characterize introductory preservation texts and courses. Organized into thirteen chapters or class sessions, the curriculum begins with a discussion of the context for the cultural record, and then moves quickly into a discussion of the structure and deterioration of paper-based and multimedia materials. The authors clearly take a holistic view of preservation education, devoting one class to an evaluation of the building’s design and the functioning of its environmental systems and another to the design and implementation of collection surveys. Later chapters deal with preservation reformatting, the long-term issues of creating sustainable digital collections, immediately followed by, somewhat inauspiciously, disaster planning. While much of the chapter on treatment options deals with paper-based collections, it is clear that the “special collections” responsibilities of librarians and archivists are not limited to paper-based materials. Although the curriculum does not focus on preservation management, there is an expectation throughout the work that individual librarians and archivists must necessarily contribute to the discussions and decisions surrounding collection care, through management of the storage facilities, item-level treatments and education of the users of the collection, even if they are not officially preservation administrators.

Each topical lesson consists of an overview, an outline of the content, learning objectives, a detailed lesson plan, with suggested timings, and resources for the teacher. These resources are lightly annotated and are supplemented with additional material in a section called “Taking it further: beyond the primary lesson” which concludes each week’s lesson plan, with additional readings and activities. One of the particular strengths of the curriculum is the collection of suggested assignments and term projects organized by class topic. Good enough on their own, these suggestions will certainly stimulate further ideas. There is an odd occasional repetition of resources, as if there were a tension between the course serving as a complete package and the expectation that individual chapters would be used as stand-alones.

Overall, the Preservation Education Curriculum is a well-organized introduction to the significant concepts and preservation issues of both paper-based and digital collections. I certainly plan to use elements of the curriculum to supplement syllabi for upcoming courses on the history of the book and digital preservation.