Preservation policy

1. Purpose and Scope

The purpose of this document is to present high level policy statements for the National Library of Australia regarding the preservation of its collections, and regarding the Library’s role in fostering preservation of documentary heritage.

The policy is intended to define the Library’s preservation responsibilities, and to provide guidance to Library staff engaged in making decisions and undertaking other activities that may have an impact on collections. It is also a fundamental accountability document concerning one of the Library’s core business functions, and is intended to serve as the basis for communication with a range of external stakeholders.

This policy has been endorsed by the Library’s Corporate Management Group for implementation throughout the Library.

1.1 Related Documents

The Library's Collection Development Policy is a key document in interpreting the Preservation Policy. It includes more detailed policy information on what the Library will collect and retain.

Policy documents which operate under the Preservation Policy are:

Related policy documents are:

2. The National Library of Australia’s preservation mandate and responsibilities

The Library’s preservation role is mandated by the National Library Act 1960 which requires the Library (s.6):

(a) to maintain and develop a national collection of library material, including a comprehensive collection of library material relating to Australia and the Australian people;

(b) to make library material in the national collection available to such persons and institutions, and in such manner and subject to such conditions, as the Council determines with a view to the most advantageous use of that collection in the national interest

Under this authority, the Library has a strategic objective of ensuring that a significant record of Australia and Australians is collected and safeguarded. To achieve this, the Library protects and maintains its collections to ensure their longevity, and implements relevant preservation strategies for priority areas of the collection including electronic resources. The Library also maintains a significant collection of non-Australian library materials to ensure they are available for current and future use for as long as they are needed.

In addition, the National Library Act requires the Library (s.6):

(d) to co-operate in library matters (including the advancement of library science) with authorities or persons, whether in Australia or elsewhere, concerned with library matters.

Under this authority, the Library seeks to help others preserve the documentary heritage resources for which they are responsible, particularly those relating to Australia.

With regard to its own collections, the Library’s preservation responsibilities identified in Directions 2009 – 2011 are to ensure that a representative record of Australian life is collected and preserved for the future.

3. Preservation of the National Library’s collections

The Library’s collections of Australiana include documentary materials of all kinds – printed works (books, serials, maps, sheet music, newspapers, ephemera), online and other digital publications, unique unpublished materials such as manuscripts, pictures, oral histories and folklore recordings, and extensive collections of microform and digital copies of information resources held by other institutions. The Library also holds considerable collections of general overseas and rare book materials, as well as world class Asian and Pacific collections.

The materials that make up the Library’s collections are composed primarily of organic materials which are subject to natural deterioration even in storage, and to accelerated damage from use. The collections also include a large and rapidly increasing component of digital and other electronic information resources which depend on particular technologies for access, making them vulnerable to loss of accessibility through technology obsolescence even if the original information carriers have been preserved.

3.1 Principles for preserving the Library’s collections

3.1.1 Preservation of its collections is a core business function for the Library. All Library staff are responsible for taking account of potential impacts on preservation of the collections in their work and their decisions.

3.1.2 The main aims of the Library’s preservation programs are to preserve collection items and to maintain access to them, consistent with their significance to the collection, usage requirements and current condition. This may require maintenance of the physical format of the items or maintenance of access to their information content, as for audio tapes, or both.

3.1.3 In addressing its preservation commitments, the Library recognises that different items and collections may need different levels and types of care, security and intervention. This may involve differences in how long materials will be maintained, and how far the Library will go in seeking to avoid or overcome either damage or loss. Most materials in the Library’s collection will be maintained in their original format.

3.1.4 In supporting accessibility, the Library seeks a suitable balance between the needs and rights of current users and the access expectations of future users.

3.1.5 In managing its preservation commitments, the Library takes account of a number of factors, including:

  • The nature and purpose of its collections
  • The nature of the risks to their ongoing value and usefulness
  • The business context in which it operates, including the resources that have been made available for allocation to preservation; the availability of specialist expertise and facilities; and opportunities for addressing preservation needs along with other business requirements.

3.1.6 To adequately account for these factors, the Library must maintain adequate knowledge of its collections in order to make informed planning decisions, and to report on the Library’s performance in caring for this highly valued publicly-owned asset.

3.1.7 The Library attempts to retain and preserve at least one copy of all Australian material collected in accordance with its collection development policy, or for which it has accepted a preservation responsibility. Items will be maintained in their original format for as long as practicable, although access may be provided to the original format or to a surrogate copy as appropriate to support users needs and cost-effective preservation.

3.1.8 Australian print, electronic and special collections are given a high priority for preservation. Overseas collections are managed for access for as long as practical, and in general receive a lower preservation priority than Australian collections. However, it is recognised that some overseas materials such as rare books, and library materials relating to Asia and the Pacific, may be of particular international significance and may have special preservation needs. The Library accepts a responsibility to preserve this material.

3.1.9 Special storage, security, treatment and copying provisions are made for nationally significant materials. These treasures and other items or collections of particular significance, whether Australian or from overseas, are identified and prioritised within a Register of Nationally Significant Materials which guides the allocation of priorities for a range of preservation actions, including disaster protection and response.

3.1.10 Copies made or acquired to serve as potential replacement preservation masters for particularly ephemeral formats (including sound recordings, digital resources, newspapers and fugitive photographic materials) are given a high priority for preservation.

3.1.11 In all of its preservation approaches, the Library applies high standards of professional care and appropriate methods to maintain the significant characteristics for which the material receiving attention is valued.

3.1.12 The mandated preservation responsibilities of the National Library can only be addressed through adequately resourced programs, appropriate policies, and well managed plans for ongoing action. While the Library may choose from a range of supply options to address some aspects of its preservation commitments, it recognises the value of maintaining a preservation presence as a core business function. This requirement reflects the complex nature of the Library’s preservation challenges, and its leadership role.

3.1.13 The Library also recognises the need for adequate documentation and metadata that will support effective planning, informed decision making, appropriate future action, and accountability.

4. Means used by the National Library to achieve its preservation objectives

To achieve its preservation objectives, the Library uses a range of means including:

  • Planning and policy making
  • Development and use of procedures across the Library to prolong the useful life of collections
  • Specialised conservation treatment
  • Copying to preservation standards.

These measures are aimed at:

  • Recognising potential threats and preventing or minimising their impacts
  • Stabilising damage that may have occurred and preventing further loss
  • Repairing damage or loss that significantly interferes with use or detracts from the usability and values that give the collection material significance
  • Providing suitable replacement copies if necessary and available.

Because conservation repair treatments and data recovery are relatively expensive and not always successful, the Library aims to prevent or pre-empt damage or loss where it is practical to do so.

5. Notes on specific activities

5.1 Acquisition and item creation

The Library acquires collection items either from external sources or through its own content creation activities (such as digitisation, photographic or oral history commissions).

For materials acquired for long term retention and use, the Library acquires the best available copy, and encourages the use of appropriate stable and manageable materials and formats where these exist.
The Library considers the likely costs of ongoing preservation in making decisions to acquire materials for the collections.

The Library sets and monitors standards for materials, formats and metadata for items it creates or commissions itself, aimed at minimising the later costs of preserving such material.

5.2 Safe storage

The Library provides appropriate accommodation to support preservation of the physical collections, and suitable secure systems and storage for digital data collections. This is achieved by:

  • Ensuring engineering and building specifications for new buildings and for upgrades or renovations to existing buildings address preservation needs of collections to be stored in them
  • Ensuring that all Library buildings are maintained to continue to meet those specifications
  • Providing appropriate environmental conditions for collection storage with acceptable levels of temperature, relative humidity, light exposure, air quality and other parameters that may be specified from time to time
  • Providing and maintaining specially controlled environmental conditions for particularly vulnerable or significant collection materials
  • Ensuring the Library has an effective integrated pest management program
  • Providing security measures that ensure collection materials are protected from theft, vandalism, and accidental damage or loss during use or in storage.
  • Using appropriate shelving and retrieval equipment
  • Using best practice systems and regimes for long term data management, including secure backup and disaster recovery arrangements
  • Maintaining best practice disaster preparedness plans and procedures to prevent, minimise, react to and recover from emergency situations that may damage the physical collections.

5.3 Collection processing and maintenance

The Library believes that appropriate collection processing, housing, and ongoing collections maintenance will reduce the likelihood of serious damage to its collections. These measures include:

  • Timely processing of newly acquired materials to a use-ready state
  • Using appropriate means of identifying items to ensure ongoing retrieval and security while minimising the risk of causing long-term damage
  • Using suitable housing containers such as boxes, folders, sleeves and wrappers where required to protect collection items
  • Regularly maintaining storage areas, equipment and collections in a clean condition using suitable low risk methods.

5.4 Protective use, display and handling

The Library recognises that use of its collections is a prime purpose of its existence. However, the nature of the collections, their national significance, what is required to support user access needs, and the access rights of future users are taken into account in determining what kinds of use will be allowed.

The Library encourages the use of surrogates rather than originals in cases where the original material is not suitable for regular use, such as rare or fragile items like glass plate negatives, or material in particularly vulnerable formats, such as audio tapes.

The Library takes serious account of preservation considerations in determining the selection of items and the frequency and duration of their use for exhibition purposes, or for loan for exhibition to other institutions. All items proposed for exhibition or loan are assessed for their current condition and vulnerability, and all items approved for exhibition or loan are appropriately prepared to minimise the risk of damage and to maximise the effectiveness of their display. Display and loan conditions with regard to security, light and UV exposure, temperature, relative humidity and air quality are specified in exhibition and loan agreements, and are intended to comply with current international standards or with special Library specifications for particular materials.

The Library requires staff and users to handle collection materials in ways that minimise the risk of damage. To address this need, training and advice on safe handling and transportation of collection materials are provided.
Recognising that copying is a potentially significant source of damage to collection materials, the Library applies restrictions to the copying of at risk materials by and for users. Preservation Services is responsible for providing guidance on which materials are considered to be at risk, and guidelines for safe copying.

5.5 Conservation treatment

Conservation treatments are undertaken to prolong the useful life of collection materials by stabilisation or repair when collection material is at risk or damaged.
In applying conservation techniques, the Library’s policy is to use the least intrusive methods available that are consistent with preventing further damage and protecting the significance of the items in question. All treatments are undertaken to a high standard and use appropriate materials. Treatment approaches include:

  • Minor repairs or stabilisation of individual items when required
  • Intensive treatment of high priority or nationally significant items requiring special attention
  • Intensive treatment of materials selected for National Library exhibitions when required
  • Commercial binding of Australian deposit collections if required for security reasons.

5.6 Preservation copying

Preservation copying of collection items is undertaken to reduce the risks associated with the use of vulnerable or particularly significant materials, and to provide a suitably faithful backup surrogate when this is possible. Preservation copying approaches used by the Library include microfilming, digitisation, and preservation photocopying. Preservation surrogates are created to appropriate standards for preservation purposes and for access; where agreed standards are not available or not suitable, the Library determines its own specifications to ensure suitable outcomes.

Increasingly, the Library uses digitisation as a means of preservation copying, when it is able to ensure that detail can be captured at the required level, and that it will be able to manage the digital copies as enduring preservation masters.

5.7 Preservation of digital and other electronic collections (including audiovisual collections)

The Library recognises that the preservation of digital and other electronic collections requires methods principally aimed at maintaining meaningful access to information content. In addition to the risks of media deterioration and data loss or damage, the primary driver for the Library’s electronic preservation programs is the risk of losing access through changes in the technologies required to access and use.

To address these risks, the Library aims to:

  • Manage its digital collection building activities with preservation objectives in mind
  • Monitor technological changes that may impact on the access paths for its various electronic collections
  • Transfer analogue audio and video collections to well-managed digital formats while analogue replay equipment is still available
  • Transfer digital materials from poorly managed storage formats to managed storage
  • Monitor the data formats in its collections and the access paths required for their reliable use
  • Plan and undertake interventions to maintain access, possibly including transformation of the digital objects or of the means of providing access.
    In order to be sustainable, the Library recognises the need for systems, tools and workflows to automate as many of these processes as possible.

6. Cooperation

The Library recognises the need to work with others in the Australian and international library and information sectors to address common challenges while minimising unnecessary duplication of effort and facilities. The Library actively participates in collaborative programs where there is a prospect of benefit in meeting its preservation objectives more cost-effectively. The PADI (Preserving Access to Digital Information) website and the Australian Newspaper Plan (ANPlan) are examples of this type of cooperation.

As the national library, the Library has a key role to play in fostering the preservation of Australia’s documentary heritage beyond its own collections. The Library also accepts a role in promoting the preservation of library and information collections internationally, with a special interest in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as a Regional Centre of the International Federation of Library Associations Preservation and Conservation Program (IFLA PAC).

6.1 Priorities

In its fostering and facilitating role, the National Library gives priority to:

  • Supporting and initiating programs and activities that enable others to identify and meet their objectives and responsibilities in preserving documentary heritage
  • Supporting and initiating programs and activities that address significant information formats at particular risk of loss, such as newspapers, digital formats, and unstable cellulose acetate information carriers
  • Promoting wide impact preservation strategies, including disaster preparedness, preservation copying, management of digital collections, training and information sharing.

7. Responsibility for Preservation Policy

This policy is monitored and reviewed by the Library's Collection Development and Management Committee on a regular basis.

Reviewed August 2009