21 April 2013

Preservation at the Library

In 2005, A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections, the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections, reported that over 4.8 billion artifacts are held in public trust by more than 30,000 archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, scientific research collections and archaeological repositories in the United States. The results were shocking.  Some 2.6 billion items were not protected by an emergency plan and 1.3 billion of those items were at risk of being lost. An invigorated cultural heritage community sounded the alarm and began to improve the situation.  (You can read the report at http://www.heritagepreservation.org/HHI.)

Risks vary by geographic location, local circumstances, and types of materials held in trust.  Locally the Beaufort County Library continued its campaign to mitigate known risks by advocating for the relocation of the Beaufort District Collection into a space above the flood plain.  The new area would follow best practices for special collections regarding environmental conditions, appropriate storage areas, and better monitoring of the public’s use of our cultural heritage holdings.  

Beaufort County government responded by funding the renovation of the Paul Siegmund Meeting Room to house the Beaufort District Collection in 2009-2010.  Major equipment and structural upgrades retrofitted part of the 2nd floor at 311 Scott Street to national standards for archival collections.  The roof was reinforced to survive higher sustained wind forces from a hurricane, a high risk for our geographic location.  The Friends of the Beaufort Library responded to A Public Trust at Risk by leading the effort to fund high density movable storage shelving and purchased additional hurricane shutters to shield the 2nd story. Individual citizens responded, too.  In other words, we got plenty of help in our quest towards being the best stewards we can of the treasures we hold in trust for the community.  Substantive improvements were made. (Photos of the relocation construction and move are at

Correspondingly, if billions of items are at risk in our heritage institutions, then plausibly trillions of items held by the general public are likely at risk for loss, too.  The cultural heritage community agreed that something constructive and cost-effective had to be done to raise awareness and mitigate the risk to all our national treasures, public and private.

The American Library Association and its partners responded with the creation of Preservation Week in 2010.  Libraries all over the country will present events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections.  This year the celebration runs April 21st – April 27th.  And, the Beaufort County Library is participating in the effort through its special collections and archives unit, the Beaufort District Collection.

Think a few minutes about your own family treasures.  What type of “stuff” do you have at your home or office that you might like to hand down to a family member, dear friend, or cultural heritage institution?  I’m sure that it will be a mix of books, personal letters (typed or hand-written) or greeting cards received for holidays and birthdays, photographs (from scrapbooks or loose snapshots, Polaroids, digital pictures).  You might have vintage maps, textiles (baptism outfits, wedding gown, etc.), paintings, furniture, or some decorative objects that you’d like to pass down.  What about that VHS tape of Jenni's first dance recital or the home movie of Otto's piano concert?  Did you ever record Aunt Mary talking about the family’s Black Sheep or Uncle Charlie's tales of his drag-racing adventures? Would you like to share the richness of your family’s story with others?

Unfortunately, not all family treasures are the same size nor made of the same materials, and thus often require different storage conditions and different housekeeping techniques.  Beaufort County Library wants to empower you to improve the condition of your family treasures so that they can be passed down in good shape to future generations – or donated in good condition to an appropriate cultural heritage institution, if that should be your choice.     

Here in the BDC we will highlight basic preservation can-dos in this blog http://www.beaufortdistrictcollectionconnections.blogspot.com and on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BDC.BCL to celebrate Preservation Week.  We’re hosting an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute class to showcase the behind-the-scenes preservation activities we do here in the Library’s special collections and archives unit to protect our community’s treasures.    On Saturday, April 27th the BDC will hold a free workshop to teach 20 participants about basic practices and techniques to lengthen the life of their own family treasures.  Registration is required.  Please call 255-6468 for details.  Registration closes on Wednesday.  

You just might be surprised how much can be done with just a little training, a plan, a small investment of time, and a few bucks!

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