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IMLS Preservation Administration Fellowship

In 2009, The New York Public Library (as lead applicant) and partner Yale University Library were awarded a three-year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) leadership grant to develop the IMLS Preservation Administration Fellowship program that prepared eight qualified librarians and associated professionals for careers in preservation administration.

The Fellows followed a specific curriculum, each undertook a major research project, participated in a two-week field experience at a partnering university, conducted site visits at other institutions with varied preservation programs, and participated in external professional development activities. They developed judgment and perspective in all facets of 21st century library and archival preservation; learned how to promote preservation agenda at large multifaceted institutions with mature and stable preservation programs; experienced how academic institutions with smaller preservation programs meet their preservation needs; and learned how preservation should support overall library program development.

The Fellowship program was successful in imparting to Fellows the skills and knowledge needed to implement preservation across every area of the institution. The Fellowship also successfully emphasized the pressing need for preservation administrators to have knowledge of many collection formats, emerging technologies, administrative expertise, and the broader context in which they will work and live.

Project activities

NYPL hosted five Fellows (one in the first year and two in each subsequent year) and Yale hosted three Fellows. Each Fellow worked at his or her host institution for nine months, engaging directly in every program area on a prescribed schedule and curriculum in order to learn unit routines and how theoretical knowledge is translated into practice. The program curriculum, outlined below, was followed successfully, with each Fellow taking responsibility for his/her learning and actively engaging in conversations to help shape their specific fellowship to augment their existing knowledge and provide additional experience and learning. Fellows identified, planned, and completed a major project that combined research and its practical application at his/her host institution. Fellows and the projects they undertook are noted below.

Fellows gained an understanding of how to negotiate and navigate within an organization to move the preservation agenda forward. They shadowed the chief of preservation at their host institutions, observed library-wide committee meetings, participated in meetings involving collection strategy and in organizational activities as they relate to preservation, and immersed themselves in focused, goal-oriented preservation activities.

They participated in workshops and conferences, attended lectures, visited other institutional preservation programs and allied organizations, networked with colleagues, and took advantage of continuing education opportunities. A sampling of professional development opportunities seized includes attendance at: National Archives and Records Administration preservation conferences, Association of Moving Image Archivists, Society of American Archivists, American Library Association, and American Institute for Conservation conferences as well as local workshops on topics such as environmental management. They visited large and mid-sized preservation programs in the northeast (such as Harvard, MIT, Columbia, and New York University), Mid-Atlantic States (such as Georgetown, Library of Congress, National Library of Medicine, and National Archives), the Midwest (such as the University of Chicago) and the west coast (such as Stanford).

The Fellows moved through each institution’s departmental preservation units on a prescribed schedule in order to learn unit routines and how theoretical knowledge is translated into practice. Fellows worked comprehensively with the unit heads of all preservation program areas to understand the work of each unit, how and why materials are selected and how they enter each workflow, as well as the standards that govern processes and the specifications that define outputs. Duration of stay in each unit depended on services provided by the unit, the Fellow’s area of interest, and units existing at the specific host institutions.

The chief preservation officer at the host institutions provided day-to-day oversight and coordination of all aspects of the Fellowship within her institution. They provided management of the program content and Fellowship experience and served as the primary mentor to their Fellows. This included working with the Fellow(s) in determining his/her project; coordinating a schedule with each preservation unit manager for working within each program area; guiding the Fellows in the attendance of meetings; determining which conferences and/or workshops would be most beneficial; and setting and monitoring goals for the overall Fellowship.

Fellows engaged in the following core curriculum areas:

  • General introduction to host institution’s preservation program, including an orientation to the program’s position within the institution and support of library’s mission of service;

  • Environmental monitoring and control, including how these systems are set up in the host institutions in regard to equipment, staff, reporting mechanisms, and collaborative processes;

  • Emergency preparedness and response, including risk assessment, steps for potential mitigation of risk, and disaster and recovery planning;

  • Field services and facilities planning, including managing the relationship between facilities departments and preservation;

  • Preservation education, focusing on the development of preservation programs and tools benefitting staff and patrons who handle a variety of materials;

  • Selection process, focusing on how materials are selected for preservation and how assessments and surveys are used during this process; Collections care and handling, including treatment and protocol standards for various collection formats, and how resources for these activities are best allocated;

  • Conservation treatment, specific to the treatment of special collections, including treatment protocol and standards for materials such as books, unbound paper and vellum, and photographs;

  • Preservation reproduction, including reformatting and conversion processes and the creation of digital surrogates of text and images, audio and video recordings, and motion picture film;

  • Sustaining digital assets, including planning for digital preservation with a focus on stakeholder audiences;

  • Registrar services for exhibitions, loans, and collections; and

  • Preservation management, including topics such as budget management and fundraising, human resources management, and contract services management.

Each Fellowship featured a two-week field experience to give Fellows a greater breadth of experience with preservation facilities, and in particular, smaller programs. The University of Connecticut at Storrs was the field site for the Yale Fellows. Rutgers University Library Special Collections and Archives was host site for the NYPL Fellows’ field experience.

At the midpoint of each Fellowship, each Fellow hosted the other Fellow(s) at their home institution. The host Fellows took complete responsibility for the visit, presenting a comprehensive overview of the institution’s preservation program and their own work during the Fellowship. They created the agenda, arranged activities and tours, and reported on the progress of the work on their special project.

National Preservation Week started at the time of this IMLS project and was incorporated into the Fellowship program. Each Fellow had an opportunity to plan their institution’s public outreach activities for this event. Presentations were offered on how to care for personal paper-based and photographic collections, personal digital archiving, film preservation, as well as audio and moving image preservation.

Host institutions and their unique role

The eight IMLS Preservation Administration Fellows had a rather unique opportunity and experience by working in two of the largest and most comprehensive research and public libraries in the world, with highly developed and far-reaching preservation programs responsible for the care of comprehensive collections that represent the richness of the country’s recorded cultural heritage both in its breadth and depth. The preservation programs at NYPL and Yale are constantly evolving to meet the preservation demands of the collections as they are being discovered through increased access and used in new ways. Both have invested in 21st century preservation strategies in order to support making their materials accessible to a worldwide audience. Similarities exist in organizational evolution (including changing organizational structure, changing services, and changing physical sites) as both have adapted to an increasingly electronic environment and user community.

Consequently, the following elements were incorporated into the curriculum based on host institutions’ responses to challenges and changing preservation practice:

  • Tackling the work of preserving audio and moving image collections in a more systematic way;

  • Assuming responsibility for digital conversion and photographic service operations to support both preservation and access of collections as well as to promote their creative use;

  • Developing web tools for information dissemination, communication, and interaction;

  • Developing new ways to support education through management of exhibition support functions;

  • Providing expert support for building and collection moves, and construction and renovation projects; and

  • Being fully engaged partners in organizational planning.

The Fellowship program conveyed a sophisticated understanding of key library issues confronting collections-holding institutions in America, and accomplished the following:

  • Increased the number of qualified preservation administrators who can lead the nation’s preservation programs in libraries;

  • Trained a new generation of preservation administrators to be able to address preservation issues facing academic, public and other research libraries of various size and type;

  • Instilled a modern understanding of the needs of preservation programs and their impact in supporting library service; and

  • Addressed collaborative preservation strategies necessary to 21st century preservation programs.

As part of the project’s dissemination efforts, all participants gathered at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Anaheim, California in summer 2012. This was an opportunity to bring together all IMLS Fellows in the program to discuss and learn from each other’s experiences. Additionally, all eight Fellows presented their research projects. It provided an opportunity for the greater library community to learn how the Fellowships have served participants in the workplace. The principal project investigators led this ALA Interest Group discussion panel to disseminate the work of the Fellowship program, highlighting the benefit to the cultural community at large.

Throughout the grant period, interest in the program far exceeded its capacity in terms of available Fellowships. Applications during the first year of the project alone exceeded 200 for two slots. During the project, the project leads were approached by numerous interested individuals from the international community. Additionally, they have shared the curriculum with other interested institutions/organizations that sought to build on this model. To date, they know of no institutions or organizations that have yet moved forward with their interest.

During this project, the Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record program (University of Texas at Austin, School of Information) closed and the Rutgers University Preservation Management Institute went on hiatus. Some other graduate programs offer a few courses in preservation, but not a substantial breadth as well as an underpinning of preservation theory and practice. With a lack of graduate academic programs offering a concentrated certificate program in this type of preservation administration, there is a growing gap in expertise-building for 21st century preservation administrators who will be able to handle the varied and evolving media, institutional, and research challenges ahead. Therefore, while the IMLS Preservation Administration Fellowship program has nurtured a small and important corps of future leaders, the need for this experiential learning continues.

The Fellows' research projects

  • Emily Vinson (NYPL) – Disaster planning and preparedness; how large organizations can organize the process of systematic planning from the highest levels to the ground roots level

  • Kim Peach (Yale) – Audiovisual collection assessment in Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Phase I)

  • Martha Horan and Jonah Volk (NYPL) – Assessment of NYPL microfilm legacy holdings with recommendations for future action

  • Kevin O’Sullivan (Yale) – Audiovisual collection assessment in Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Phase II)

  • Nick Szydlowski (NYPL) – Developed database to track each Division’s unit outputs for statistical reporting and analysis of program reach

  • Kim Tarr (NYPL) – Storage audit and overall preservation assessment of audio collections at the Library for the Performing Arts

  • Annie Peterson (Yale) – Disaster plan for the high-density storage facility at Yale

We are confident that this program was both rigorous and successful in its training and development of future leaders in the preservation field. A program such as this was only possible through this generous grant and the tireless work of the participating institutions. All involved are committed to the nurturing of future leaders and are passionate about the collective stewardship of the country’s cultural heritage in all of its varied formats. Additional leadership training programs are needed and should take into account the ever-changing societal, academic and scholarly landscape.

The cultural community at large has been the overall project beneficiary, through the training of a corps of 21st century preservation professionals who will be able develop new preservation programs as well as reinvigorate existing ones to meet the emerging needs of the library and archival community.