Model Preservation Policies for Ohio’s Cultural Heritage Institution
Introduction by Tom Clareson, LYRASIS
Concept by Laura Hortz Stanton, Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts
The Ohio Connecting to Collections statewide preservation needs assessment survey project in 2009-2010 was part of a national initiative funded in part by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The survey results and regional meeting discussions showed that the collecting institutions within the state – museums, libraries, historical societies, and archives – had a desire to develop better policies and documentation for their preservation activities.
Making model policies from Ohio and national institutions available online provides organizations with “best practices” in preservation, which they can use to develop guidelines and practices for their own collections. This site contains exemplar policies for collection develop and management, emergency preparedness, environmental control, ethics, exhibition of materials, handling and care of collections, housekeeping and cleaning collections, loan of collection materials, and reformatting/reproduction/digitization. These model documents have been identified and selected by the Ohio Connecting to Collection Project Partners, for use by organizations to develop their own “family” of preservation policies.
Development of a set of preservation policies can help an institution move “from project to program.” The policies can be used repeatedly, and the documentation developed during projects can be used to advance a sustained program of preservation activity.
A Working Definition of Preservation
A definition which is often used in the preservation community is that preservation is the sum of activities a cultural heritage institution undertakes to maintain its collections in usable condition for as long as they are needed. Collection maintenance activities are performed on a regular basis by all types of staff including collections managers, curatorial staff, registrars, librarians, archivists, and other staff and volunteers at collecting institutions.
At cultural heritage institutions, all of these activities should have a written/documented policy, procedure, or checklist. These policies can lead to the initial implementation and regular deployment of best practices in preservation.
Collection Development Policy
A document outlining what the institution will collect, and the scope and breadth of the collections. This type of policy also designates future areas of collecting focus, through identification of the strengths and gaps in existing collections.
These documents establish policy, procedures, and practice for accessioning, deaccessioning, collections access, staffing, institutional ownership and stewardship of collections, documentation of collections, loan policies, and other key factors in the management and sustainability of cultural heritage collections.
Emergency Preparedness/Disaster Response Plan
These documents identify the areas of collection vulnerability and institutional risk, and methods to mitigate and recover from emergencies and disasters caused by those man-made and natural risks. These plans often include multiple methods of contact with staff and vendors, prioritization of materials and collections for response and recovery, and procedures for recovering a variety of formats of materials. In some cases, institutions may wish to develop a standalone policy for dealing with a particular type of risk such as fire, flood, or mold.
This policy identifies environmental set points, heating/ventilation/air conditioning capabilities and adjustments, and can often include information on systems maintenance schedules, and environmental management staff.
This type of document establishes the conduct of staff and the parent institution in relation to its collection to avoid impropriety or conflicts of interest. This may be included in an institution’s collection management policy; in addition, many cultural heritage professional organizations have statements of Ethical Standards.
These policies provide parameters and guidelines for the care, maintenance, and preservation of collections materials that are being exhibited. The policy will often outline selection procedures for exhibition, length of time material can be displayed, suggested light levels for exhibited collections, mount and support information, security issues for exhibited materials, and housekeeping practices for spaces in which exhibits are mounted.
Handling and Care Guidelines
Institutions will often have two sets of handling guidelines, one for the staff and one for users. The guidelines for users will often detail information about use of gloves with collection materials, restrictions on writing instruments, cameras, and food and drink in collections areas, and practices for handling various formats of materials.
An institutional housekeeping policy utilized in a cultural heritage organization will often differ from the policies of a housekeeping or janitorial department in their focus on the cleaning of collections and collections storage areas, rather than public areas of the building. Information in the policy includes areas to be cleaned, collections materials which may be cleaned and procedures, cleaning products which may be used, and a schedule for cleaning procedures.
This policy establishes procedures and guidelines used to approve the outgoing or incoming loan of rare and valuable collections materials. The document is separate from a standard Interlibrary Loan Policy, as there are stricter conditions for the loan of special collections, archival, and museum materials. Institutions will often include this in their Collections Management Policy.
This document serves as a strategic plan for overall preservation activities within an institution and often includes references to or excerpts of all of the other policy types listed in this document. In an institutional preservation plan, specific projects may be listed, with responsible staff, timeframes, budget sources, and other planning information.
Reformatting/Reproduction/Digitization Policies and Guidelines
These documents outline the procedures for selecting collections and items for digitization and reformatting, technical specifications for digitization, and often include information on access to digitized materials. These documents may also include information on the preservation of digitized collection items.