This is a guest post by Jacob Nadal, Director for Preservation at the Library of Congress.
Jacob Nadal. Photo by Shawn Miller.
Every spring, libraries all across the U.S. celebrate Preservation Week. This annual event highlights what we can do, individually and together, to care for our personal collections and to support preservation efforts in libraries, archives, museums, historical societies and collecting institutions in communities all across the country.
Preservation Week was launched in 2010 by federal agencies and professional societies concerned with preservation issues, with the Library of Congress and Institute of Museum and Library Services working in partnership with the American Library Association, the American Institute for Conservation, the Society of American Archivists and others.
Although preservation has a long history in libraries, Preservation Week is a 21st-century program, and the 21st century has been an important period for cultural heritage preservation. One of the reasons for this is simple: the 20th century saw the development of more technologies for recording and distributing information than any earlier period in history. Photography, film, video and audio recording all came of age. Publishing of books and journals expanded exponentially and continues to grow year over year to this day. By the end of the 20th century, every genre of media was amplified by digital technologies and, at present, digital information has dwarfed all other media.
Paper conservators Gwenanne Edwards and Mary Elizabeth Haude prepare an 18th-century map for conservation treatment. Photo by Shawn Miller.
The challenges of preservation in the 21st century are larger and more complex than ever before. In response, librarians and archivists have a responsibility to raise public awareness and develop the skills and techniques necessary to preserve a diverse and growing range of information and artifacts.
The Library of Congress has a special role in this. Our vast scope of collecting requires us to support an extensive program of preservation services and research, and Preservation Week is a welcome opportunity to share our knowledge and sense of purpose. From time to time, though, Congress gives the Library special direction to attend to preservation issues of concern for the American people. It is a particular honor to share an example of this in the form of the Veteran’s History Project (VHP).
VHP is an example of this new preservation consciousness and a model for preservation in the 21st century. A congressionally mandated effort, it was launched at the Library in 2000 to collect U.S. veterans’ oral histories, original personal documents and images and ensure that they are preserved and kept accessible for posterity. VHP collects materials from World War I through the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, donated by veterans or their loved ones.
Research chemist Lynn Brostoff analyses one of the Library’s Claude Laurent glass flutes with musician Robbie Lee looking on. Photo by Shawn Miller.
As older veterans pass away, records of their lives in the military are left behind, and families find themselves faced with the dilemma of what to do with these materials. To keep the records may mean deterioration of these fragile items. To part with them means losing possession of treasured pieces of family history. By donating material to VHP, veterans and their families can ensure that their material is not only preserved according to the highest archival standards, but also made available to their family members, researchers and the public for generations to come.
For more recent service members or veterans, preserving records presents new challenges. Traditional forms of communication and documentation—letters, photographs, handwritten journals—have been replaced by emails, digital images, social media and blogs, all dependent on an ever-evolving array of hardware and software. Fortunately, the Library provides many resources to aid in the preservation of these valued mementos—from guidance about preservation practices for individuals, to a world-class repository of personal accounts, open to the participation of all Americans who have served their country in uniform.
We are celebrating Preservation Week on Monday, April 23, will a full day of programming, including behind-the-scenes tours of the Preservation Directorate; a lecture on the Library’s enduring work to collect, preserve and honor the legacies of our veterans; and a special display of VHP collection items presented by Library conservators and the project’s archivists. If you will be in Washington, D.C., consider joining us.
Although Preservation Week is a moment in time, our preservation efforts are ongoing. In addition to Preservation Week events, we offer a variety of tours, lectures and programs throughout the year. You can also reach out with preservation-related questions through our Ask a Librarian page.
If you would like to support our work to preserve and protect collections at the Library and across the nation, you can make a donation. Your contribution will help to sustain education and outreach programs, research and training and internships that launch careers in preservation.