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Making the Most of What We Have: A Framework for Preservation Management in Rare Book Collections

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Making the Most of What We Have: A Framework for Preservation Management in Rare Book Collections
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  W e    are   facing    an    uncertain    future in special collections—one that will most likelycontinue to require us to make tough decisions. With cutbacks and limitations onresources plaguing us, the expense and time required or item-level treatment makeit necessary to set preservation priorities within our collections. 1 At the same time,digital initiatives continue to expand in scope and resource allocation, creating newopportunities and challenges in preservation management. Digitization has a valu-able place in special collections as a supplement to physical preservation, but thedanger arises when the digital begins to supplant the physical.So we need to ask ourselves—in rare book collections, what exactly are we trying to preserve? Do we maintain the physical object, or do we risk losing the inorma-tion retained in its inherent characteristics? When the “orm” and “substance” o agiven object are indistinguishable, 2 we are challenged to evaluate collection materi-als in terms o their inherent value, which includes both the text and the intangibleinormation the materials provide.The literature addresses the need or preservation priorities 3 and oers some sub- jective criteria that could be used or making such decisions, 4 but it is time to takethe next step in establishing guidelines or setting preservation priorities. A needexists or a standardized and objective decision-making ramework to guide item-level preservation and conservation activities in rare book collections. The presenceo a standard could assist in justiying the use o limited resources or executing preservation decisions. I am presenting the ollowing ramework as one such tem- 1. Pauline Kamel, “Conservation Treatment o Rare Books,”  Feliciter  45.2 (1999): 108–12.2. Michèle Valerie Cloonan, “W(h)ither Preservation?”  Library Quarterly 71.2 (2001): 231–42.3. John Feather,  Preservation and the Management of Library Collections (London: The Library Associa-tion, 1991); Nancy E. Gwinn, “The Fragility o Paper: Can Our Historical Record Be Saved?” The PublicHistorian 13.3 (summer 1991): 33–53; Tyler O. Walters, “Contemporary Archival Appraisal Methods andPreservation Decision-Making,”  American Archivist  59.3 (1996): 322–38.4. Anthony W. Ferguson, “Preservation Decision-Making Basics: A University Library CollectionDeveloper’s Perspective,”  Acquisitions Librarian 2 (1989): 239–46. Making the Most o What We Have: A Framework or Preservation Managementin Rare Book Collections © 2009 Jennifer K. Sheehan 111  112 RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage  plate—one that takes into consideration many o the characteristics that contributeto the inherent value o an object. Figure 1. Framework for preservation decision-making in rare book collections, incorporating attributes relating to physicality and context. Using this ramework, a given book receives a data point based upon its cumulativescore or seven physical and seven contextual attributes. The seven physical attri- butes that are scored are: authenticity , condition , aesthetic value , special features , binding  , textual variants , and value of materials , and the seven contextual attributes are: histori-cal value , cultural value ,  provenance , availability , demand ,  production , and association . Developing the Framework  The process by which I devised those two lists began by reviewing the literatureand compiling an initial list o 13 characteristics that contribute to the “value”o rare books. 5 The characteristics were: authenticity , association , textual   variants , 5. Kenneth Lavender, What Makes a Rare Book Rare? (Denton, Tex.: University o North Texas, 2003); Alice Schreyer, “Common Cause: Collaborating to Preserve Printed and Primary Source Materials,” in Getting Ready for the 19th Century: Strategies and Solutions for Rare Books and Special Collections Librarians ,eds. William E. Brown, Jr. and Laura Stalker (Chicago: Association o College and Research Libraries, American Library Association, 2000), 34–40; Peter Van Wingen, Your Old Books (Chicago: Rare Booksand Manuscripts Section, Association o College and Research Libraries, American Library Association),available online at www.rbms.ino/yob.shtml.  Making the Most of What We Have  113  production , cultural value , historical value , aesthetic value ,  provenance , binding  , condition , demand , availability , and special features . To this list, I added a 14th:   the monetaryvalue o the materials used in the construction o the book.In searching or participants in the study, I cast a airly wide net. I explored a list o universities within the state o Texas 6 and studied their Web sites to nd institu-tions with special collections containing rare books; archives were not included.Then I conducted an Internet search or rare book collections to nd participantsoutside the state. I contacted administrators at 17 dierent collections, and Ireceived a surprisingly low response, with only six agreeing to participate. I wouldlike to try the project again in the uture with a larger sample, because I know thatthe small size could present limitations in my results. Nonetheless, the overall con-cepts in the creation o the ramework remain valid. The six participants representcollections at large and small, public and private academic libraries, so I elt thattheir responses could still be quite useul or my purposes. To those six individu-als, I submitted the list o 14 criteria. No ormal denitions were provided or eachterm because I wanted responses that would refect each person’s proessional andeducational experiences.They were asked to rank the 14 characteristics on a scale o 1–14, with 1 indicating the term o greatest importance to the value o a book, and 14 indicating least im-portance. I then asked them to determine i they elt that any criteria were absentrom the list and to indicate i any o the included criteria should be removed. Also,i they believed that any o the terminology should be changed, I gave them an op-portunity to indicate those recommendations.Table 1 on the ollowing page illustrates the rankings they assigned.Only one o the participants indicated any additions or deletions. He suggested that research value should be added, and value of materials should be removed because“one could take a perectly ordinary book and deck it out with gold and gems andstill not have a rare book, merely an expensive ordinary book.” Ater contemplat-ing his suggestion, I ultimately decided not to include research value . I elt that theresearch value o a rare book, in relation to the text, is not incorporated into the book’s inherent value as an inormation-bearing object and could thereore beadequately represented in a surrogate. On the other hand, any research value re-fecting the physical characteristics or context o the book can be incorporated intothe other 13 criteria. For example, research value based on a notable individual’smarginalia could be classied as association . 6. University o Texas, “U.S. Universities by State.” Available online at www.utexas.edu/world/univ/state/#TX.  114 RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage  I also elt that continuing to include value of materials was important. I would arguethat many o the books housed in our collections may be “ordinary” books thathave been entrusted to us solely because they were constructed o expensive ma-terials. It seems to me that those materials are vital considerations or preservationdecisions. Because the responses o the other participants supported my positionon both research value and value of materials , I decided to keep the srcinal list o 14criteria. Ater looking at the rst table, I realized that the results produced an ordering o the terms but no respective weights relative to each o the characteristics. There-ore, I sent a second question to the same participants. I asked each to respond tothe ollowing question regarding the criteria rom the rst survey:“Imagine that you have 100 tokens to distribute according to each o the ollowing characteristics. Please distribute these tokens among the 14 characteristics, basedon your perception o their respective importance. For example, i authenticity oranother given term is highly valued, it would receive a larger portion o those 100tokens.” Ater receiving the second set o responses, I constructed table 2.From this table, I developed a chart to illustrate the distribution o the terms. I ar-ranged the terms to provide an illustration o their descending relative requencies, ExpertOneExpertTwoExpertThreeExpertFour ExpertFiveExpertSixAuthenticity1171111Association106128914Textual Variants7813936Cultural Value642257Historical Value531362Provenance37114104Special Features125101029Aesthetic Value91361148Production812814813Demand1393121311Availability4144131412Condition225515Binding111197710Value of Materials1410146123 Table 1 Rankings of 14 criteria which may be attributed to rare books  Making the Most of What We Have  115 according to the number o tokens that the group o participants had cumulativelyattributed to each characteristic.Upon examining the 14 criteria, I was pleased and surprised to discover that the setdivides easily into two subsets o seven. The rst group pertains to the physical ob- ject o the book, consisting o  authenticity , condition , aesthetic value , special features , binding  , textual variants , and value of materials . The other set refects the context inwhich the book has existed and consists o  historical value , cultural value ,  provenance , availability , demand ,  production , and association .Within these two categories,I wanted to establish specicweights or each term, so Igave each term its cumulativenumber o tokens rom thesecond survey, refected ingure 1, and divided that cu-mulative score by the sum o the scores or all seven crite-ria in the given category. Forexample, authenticity receiveda total o 110 tokens rom all ExpertOneExpertTwoExpertThreeExpertFour ExpertFiveExpertSixAuthenticity3012350114Association073544Textual Variants0721126Cultural Value107154117Historical Value10715101112Provenance1073549Special Features5831125Aesthetic Value53510116Production065193Demand0615104Availability10515104Condition1512105158Binding5751105Value of Materials0615013 Table 2 Allocation of 100 tokens among 14 criteria which may be attributed to rare books PhysicalCharacteristicTotal Number of Tokens Normalized ScoreAuthenticity1100.328Condition650.194Aesthetic Value400.119Special Features340.101Binding330.099Textual Variants280.084Material Value250.075Total3351.000 Table 3 Percentage weights for physical characteristicsof rare books
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