The importance of caring for academic library collections cannot be understated. A well-maintained collection increases the visibility of a university and attracts quality students, faculty, and staff.
Collections care, also known as preservation, collection maintenance, and preventative preservation, are activities associated with maintaining collection materials for use or display, whether in their original format or in some other usable format. Collections care comprise activities within collection management, environmental management, storage and handling, and monitoring.
Specific duties include identifying, recording, and locating collections contents; storing them in a controlled environment; handling them in a way that prolongs continued usefulness; restoring them when necessary; ensuring that they are accessible to patrons; and monitoring their location, use, and condition at all times.
Collections care differs from conservation, which are activities used in the care of individual items, usually, after some type of damage has occurred. Once an item is damaged, it is usually withdrawn from the circulating collection for conservation. Conservation is highly specialized, and should not be attempted by untrained library staff.
Why is this important?
A 2005 survey called The Heritage Health Index, assessed the condition of U.S. collections:
- 4.8 billion items were identified, and academic or research libraries held 1.9 billion of those items.
- 630 million items found in collecting institutions required immediate attention and care.
- 59% of these items have been damaged by light.
- 53% of these items have been damaged by moisture.
- 80% of the collecting institutions had no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent had no collections care personnel at all.
- 2.6 billion items were not protected by an emergency plan.