www.billelar.dk                                 Back to texts

Presentation 19 April 1999

<font size="5" face="Times New Roman"></font>
Are the users and the staff a problem? teaching preservation management in The Royal Library


Paper presented at a European conference on Preservation Management. Between policy and practice at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The Hague, 19. - 21. April 1999.

Some time ago, I read some instructions written in the 18th century by a Danish book collector for his assistant, telling him how his book collection should be looked after while he was away. Among other things, it was said that all the books should be brushed once a week to prevent bookworms in the books. The instructions are clever enough seen from the book collectors point of view. It is true that brushing the books removed the dust left by the bookworms after they had chewed their way through the book, but the actual bookworm was not eradicated with this method. Bookworms thrive in damp conditions and could therefore survive in 18th century buildings. This was not changed until heating conditions were improved. Central heating in the buildings solved the problem of bookworms.

This little story about bookworms is symptomatic for how people used to know the symptoms all right, but did not always know the correct remedies. I will take another example from folk medicine. In Scandinavia, it was known in folk medicine that headaches could by cured by eating bark from a certain type of tree and then pulling the person through a hollow tree, so that the sickness was transferred to the tree. It was not until our time that it became known that this was because this bark contains acetylsalicylic acid, which is the main ingredient in headache tablets. The right remedy for headaches had been found in the bark, but it was believed that it was the hollow tree that cured the sickness. Sometimes the remedy was right - other times it was wrong, but with regard to both the brush and the hollow tree, people had learned from experience, but this realisation was not combined with exact measurements and exact tests, in a way that theories could be proved or disproved.

In many ways, the issue of preservation and the development of our knowledge about preservation in libraries has gone through a process similar to the examples just mentioned. At first, the issue of preservation grew from a craft. Libraries have used bookbinders or have had bookbinders associated with them for centuries, and the craftsmen's view of what was good conservation has set the trend. The first rule was that the precondition for all preservation was that all books should be bound. In itself, it is not wrong that many books are better conserved if they are bound, but a generation ago this was driven to the length that everything should be bound - including material that has later proved to have been damaged by it. For example, in The Royal Library we made gigantic volumes with newspapers. You need two people to lift them and the pages are ruined when you try to turn them over in these volumes. But in the tradition of the craft, it was good preservation. What was good in another age was transferred to new circumstances where it did not suit.

There must still be respect for craftsmanship. The craft of bookbinding, as we knew it in earlier times - bookbinding by hand - has today been replaced by industrial bookbinding. In The Royal Library, we have had a clear strategy to maintain an environment for traditional bookbinding craftsmanship of such a size that we have the expertise to treat and maintain our old collections. But in addition to this comes something new: preservation has now moved in to the academic field and become a science. Preservation education in Denmark is today an academic course, and conservators from The Royal School of Preservation are awarded an academic degree after their final examination, which corresponds to a university degree. This change has occurred in Denmark within the past 10-15 years. At the beginning, it was not particularly obvious, but gradually, as The Royal School of Preservation produces new graduates - and these graduates are employed in positions with responsibility and the possibility to make decisions - it has become increasingly clear that the issue of preservation has been made into a science.

This change to a science is mainly reflected in two ways. First, it means that preservation policy and conservation measures can be determined on the basis of exact knowledge and on the basis of systematic investigations, for example, knowledge about the acid content of paper, knowledge about the best climatic conditions for various types of material etc. Second, this change to a science means a recognition of the importance of education of the users and the staff and a recognition of the importance of changing the attitudes of those who use and handle the materials.

This change is obvious in The Royal Library. Out of a staff of 12 in the Preservation Department, there are today four employees with an academic degree from The Royal School of Preservation. Just seven years ago, there were no academics in the department.

Organisation of the area of preservation

In The Royal Library, the preservation tasks are fitted into the organisation in a way that should ensure dynamic interaction between responsibility for the daily handling and responsibility for preservation.

The library is organised in departments that have administrative responsibility for the single collections, books, manuscripts, music, pictures, posters etc. - called collections departments. These departments are responsible for the acquisition of collections, making them available to the users and ensuring proper storage facilities when they are not in use.

The responsibility for preservation is organised in a special department outside the collections departments - in the Preservation Department, which is a so-called transverse department. The Preservation Department is led by the Head of Preservation. The department consists of the Bookbinding and Conservation workshop, the Photographic Studio and the Collections Inventory.
Cooperation between the Preservation Department and the collections departments takes place in the Preservation Board, whose chairman is the Director. The Security Section (the guards who are responsible for control of theft prevention) and the Head of Security (who advises the Board of Directors on matters of theft prevention) are also members of the board.

In addition to this, there is a more operational committee, the Disaster Prevention Committee, which consists among others of the Head of Preservation, the Security Section, and the Head of Security.

A basic principle in the organisation of The Royal Library is that no one should be able to transform his area of responsibility into a fortress that is inaccessible to others. This is implemented as a conscious policy: the collections departments are responsible for their collections, but the Collections Inventory can make unannounced, spot-check audits. The Building Services is responsible for control of the micro-climate in the stacks, but weekly transcripts of temperature and humidity are sent to the Head of Preservation. The Security Section is responsible for prevention of theft, but the Head of Security supervises that the routines are adhered to. These are just examples. It is our view that in this way we keep an integrated organisation and we safeguard ourselves against the disintegration of routines. The supervisors do not have the right to give instructions to their colleagues, but they have the duty to inform the Board of Directors in cases of irregularities.

The Preservation Board is responsible for formulating the library policy for preservation and for drawing up budgets for the work of the Bookbinding and Preservation Workshop, for safety micro-filming etc. In the ordinary day-to-day work, the initiative is of course left to the Preservation Department and in particular the Head of Preservation - with regard to education and changing the attitudes of users and employees, too. The target group for such work is in the first instance employees, who then in their presentation work prepare guidelines for the users. Among the other tasks of the Preservation Department is the drawing up of a preservation plan, which we expect to be finished in a year or two.


In order to be able to bring about positive changes in attitude and greater understanding for preservation issues among employees and users, the prerequisites for us have been these:

1. A coherent and balanced institutional policy
2. Clear allocation of jobs and responsibility
3. A satisfactory physical framework

Without going into detail, we think we have created the coherent institutional policy and ensured clear allocation of jobs and responsibility. The most important change has been that preservation problems are no longer perceived from a purely craftsmanship point of view. The change in attitude within recent years has led to an understanding that the various purposes of the library and the various types of materials must be taken into account.

The crucial condition for building up a positive attitude among the employees in The Royal Library has been the establishment of acceptable physical building conditions. After a great number of years with unacceptable stack conditions, the first phases in a long-term building plan are now about to be realised. The first phase is a climate-controlled stack building for 40,000 running metres, which in three further phases will be extended to contain about 175,000 running metres.

The Preservation Department has been actively involved in formulating the requirements for a new climate-controlled stack building. The Preservation Department has followed this up with an educational effort, so that the good preservation conditions in the stacks can be combined with good conditions when books and other material are used.

Policy for changing attitudes

The basic principle in the work of changing attitudes among the employees is now that it is less about concentrating on teaching as traditionally understood, but is more about influencing attitudes and determining a policy that affects everyone who has something to do with the library, i.e. permanent staff, temporary staff, users who come to the library and long-distance users.

The training has to affect a number of target groups:

1. The decision makers
The most important thing is to start with the Director, the Board of Directors and other decision makers in the library. It is the Board of Directors who have to ensure that guidelines are kept up-to-date, that the overall policy of the library harmonises with preservation considerations as well as taking the interests of the users into account.

2. The employees
The employees are the group in charge of the practical implementation of the preservation policy. They are the people who ordinarily supervise that the materials are handled correctly and they are the people who are responsible for the physical handling of the material. The employees are the most important target group for working on attitudes. There are great differences within the employee group. In the specialised departments, the Book History Collections, Manuscript Department etc, the motivation for taking preservation into consideration is extremely high. The other extremity is the transport service and internal service, which are only involved in parts of the process.

3. The users
The users must mainly be reached through the guidelines and the work on attitudes communicated by the employees, e.g. short rules with very basic guidelines, for instance that only pencils may be used when working with manuscripts, that cotton gloves have to be worn when working with certain types of materials etc.

We have now worked according to these basic principles for two to three years. We had some experience to build on, and for instance knew that previous attempts to establish class teaching for employees was difficult to organise and therefore came to nothing. So we decided to find other ways. The conclusion was that teaching about preservation demands an active political effort from the management of the library and active work on the attitudes of the employees. Not by means of a one-off course, but by means of a continuous process that never stops. This cannot be done by sending the employees to school, but has to be part of the institution's active daily operations. The method has been to give suggestions for solutions and introduce new facilities to promote preservation efforts.

The results have been very interesting - and in many areas, positively surprising, as it has brought about considerable self-activation among the employees to promote preservation. I will give some examples of the results.

Our most recent experience is rather positive:

Change of binding policy

In the Preservation Board, it was decided three years ago to have a new binding policy, which is a radical change and therefore gave rise to great reaction in the organisation. For generations, it had been good policy at The Royal Library that all books had to be bound in library bindings immediately on receipt. This is now changed, so that new books are put in the stacks unbound or in their original binding. After this, the principle is that they should be bound after the fifth borrowing or if the books show signs of damage. This changed policy was followed up by an educational effort to explain how the body of the book hangs in the binding and what this means for modern books. The change was also made easier because in previous efforts to maintain the policy of binding all books, completely unsuitable cardboard binding had been taken into use, which meant that there were thousands of damaged books in the stacks. This new policy has resulted in employees paying much greater attention to damage to the books - not just the new books, but all books, so that they are sent to be repaired when there are signs of wear.

CMI-box machine

The new binding policy has been followed up by the library acquiring an American machine that can make inexpensive book boxes, tailor-made to measurements - a socalled CMI-box machine. There is software linked to the machine so that the single departments can take the measurements for the boxes themselves. These measurements are sent on a disk to the Book Binding and Conservation Workshop, which produces the boxes. In this way, the material does not have to be sent to the workshop to be put in boxes; the departments do it themselves. The CMI boxes are now widely used for materials that would previously have been bound, or would have been stored in other - and more unsuitable - storage materials. The Preservation Department employees have made a great contribution by instructing the employees in the collections departments in the correct use of the boxes and in how to take measurements for boxes.

New form of budgeting for the preservation effort

The Bookbinding and Preservation Workshop does work for the departments according to a plan determined beforehand, but without writing out bills to the single department. In order to increase the responsibility of the collections departments for the correct use of the resources in the Workshop, a quota arrangement was introduced some years ago, where each department is allocated a certain number of work hours in the Bookbinding Workshop. The departments themselves have a joint responsibility about how their quotas in the Workshop are to be used. The Preservation Department has followed this up with information to the collections departments about what various types of binding and preservation mean for the collections.

Self-activation in the national main collection

The greater attention paid to the issue of preservation has resulted, for example, in the Danish Department (which is responsible for legal deposit and the national main collection of printed materials) setting up an internal Preservation Group. The internal Preservation Group has drawn up internal guidelines for handling various types of materials. The internal Preservation Group has also drawn up a paper for new guidelines for lending policy. This paper is now the basis for a discussion about modernising the rules for when other research libraries can borrow books from the national main collection.

The most interesting result of the internal Preservation Group's work is the improved conditions for the Danish newspapers. For many years, newspapers were not treated properly and were stored under very poor conditions. In connection with the fitting out of new stacks, the newspapers now have excellent storage conditions. All newspapers are now flat - and no more than three volumes on top of each other. Shelves and boxes for storage match each other. The Preservation Department has given advice under way, but the initiative was taken by the Danish Department. Previously, it would have been necessary to set up a project group to accomplish such a task. Now it has been done on the department's own initiative after the preservation policy had created the framework.

Transport of newspapers has been another area where conditions were unsatisfactory. To solve the problem, a project group was to make a suggestion for a solution. Before the project group had started, the newspaper group itself, by inspiration from the internal Preservation Group, and in consultation with the Preservation Department, had found its own means of transport, so that the newspapers can be transported flat on shelves in trolleys with closed sides, so that they are not damaged during transport.

One of our principles is that the best solution ergonomically for the individual employee is to be the solution that is also most desirable from a preservation point of view. The Danish Department itself has realised this principle in the case of the newspapers.

Aware and less aware employees

In the example with the newspapers, we are talking about an employee group with great awareness about preservation conditions for the type of material for which they are responsible. There is a saying that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. The weakest link in the preservation chain is the transport section and others who handle material without themselves having responsibility for collections. These functions have many casual workers and many with short periods of employment.

Our strategy to reach this employee group is based on the assumption that employees are most open to new problems in connection with being employed. All new employees in the library go through a short introduction course. The Preservation Department has made a video of 10-12 minutes for this course, which in a short educational form goes through some of the most important basic rules for handling books, i.e. stacking books and transport of books, and which explains when a book is damaged.
We expect that new employees will come back after the introduction course and after having seen the video knowing about the proper handling of library material. We expect that this will have a positive spillover effect on older colleagues. We expect that older colleagues themselves will seek out the knowledge they may lack on these questions.

The users

Here, too, we see the same pattern. The first initiatives to draw up user guidelines about preservation came from departments with the most preservation-aware employees. The Manuscript Department and the Department of Maps, Prints and Photographs have already drawn up short guidelines, for example, that cotton gloves must be worn when photographs and valuable manuscripts are used. We expect that other departments with special collections will follow of themselves when we re-open the main building in the autumn.
The great challenge is to find solutions that ensure the correct handling of books on loan and materials that are to be photocopied. This involves hundreds of thousands of books and journals a year. Here the advantage of having the specialist among our staff in direct contact with the researcher cannot be used. The plan just now is to find an illustrator who can create a humorous series for us with amusing episodes about the proper care of books while they are on loan and photocopied. We have some ideas for artists, but it costs money - and we have none in the 1999 budget. However, this has not changed our ambition to be able to find a solution, so that drawings, for example, on recall notices and bookmarks can become a collector's item in the same way as telephone cards have become one.

Consequences for the Preservation Department

The above are just some examples that can illustrate how we have tried to educate users and employees in preservation issues. For the Preservation Department itself, this development has been very interesting. The department still has conservation and handling of books and other materials as its main activity, but training other employees, consultant service for departments, and instruction and demonstration of methods take up an increasingly part of its time. It is no longer enough to be a good craftsman or a good conservator in the Preservation Department. You also have to be a good teacher and good at inspiring and sharing your knowledge. It has increased the prestige of the Preservation Department in the organisation and, of course, the professional content in the work of the Preservation Department.

To return to the title of this paper: Are the users and the employees a problem?

The answer is: Yes, they are a problem - if the issue of preservation is not made an integrated part of the policy of the institution.

The answer is: No, they are not a problem - if the management and the authorities empowered to make grants are in the vanguard and create the proper framework in the form of buildings and other storage conditions, and if a policy is formulated that is positively actively concerned with the problems. Users as well as employees in such cases show great interest in these matters. We regard the users and the employees as a help to implement an active preservation policy.

Creative Commons License 
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.