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NCPC Panel Discussion

Craig: On Friday, November 18, Vicki and I traveled to the Friday Center in Chapel Hill for the North Carolina Preservation Consortium (NCPC) Annual Conference. The theme this year was “Advocating for Collection Preservation”.

Vicki: We’ll share our thoughts and impressions to give you an idea of what we learned!

V: The first speaker was Ember Farber from the American Association of Museums. She spoke eloquently about ways to advocate for our work. As the Grassroots and Advocacy Manager of AAM, she often works with elected officials and shares her concerns and needs with them directly, hoping that they will use their influence to pass a bill or make legislation to benefit museums. Her department also issues alerts on legislation that impacts museums, either via email or social media.

While we in private academic libraries may not often get to lobby with elected officials, Ember did have strategies and tips to help anyone advocate for their collections:

*Activity begets activity- work on at least one project or contact at least one person who can help influence the powers that be to help preserve your collections

*Be ready with your list of “asks” at all times; you never know when you’ll cross paths with someone who can help advocate for you and your collections.

*Pick one advocacy activity or way to share the value of our work with the public. Get the word out about what you’re doing and how important it is.

We all then participated in a group activity. We had to come up with an “elevator speech” that would help “sell” our work and collections to an elected official or person of influence. We practiced on each other and will remember the point for future real life situations.

C: Julie Mosbo, Preservation Librarian at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale spoke on Preservation Week. Julie is the chair of the ALA Working Group for Preservation Week, which is a nascent program to focus attention of preservation issues and needs. Julie announced the birth of Preservation Week came from the Heritage Health Index, which identified a large number of library materials that needed preservation and very few staff to perform this needed work. Preservation Week is largely focused on individuals with personal collections who need help. The PW group uses all sorts of social media to get the word out (Facebook, Twitter) but also directs their outreach to ALA Sections and has an active blog. This year, the PW schedule has a theme for each day of the week, which focuses on audiovisual, textile or photographic preservation.

V: I was amazed to find that the Heritage Health Index report identified approximately 630 MILLION institutional items that need attention! It definitely helped me know that we aren’t alone as far as having many more items that the number of staff can address. It also made a lot of sense to me that if the Preservation Week effort can help to start conserving materials while they are still in peoples’ homes, the materials will be in better shape once they come to the archives, museums, etc. It was also encouraging to learn that participating in PW has increased. There have only been two PW’s so far, but in 2010 there were 63 known participating institutions, and in 2011 there were 100. Hopefully the numbers will continue to grow.

C: After a great lunch, there was a lightning round of speakers on several topics:
-David Goist, a painting conservator in private practice, spoke about the Collections Assessment Program (CAP). This program provides technical assistance for small to medium sized museums. The NEH Preservation Assistance Grants for Libraries mirrors the CAP program for the library world. These two programs can help assess collections and usually involves an on-site visit.
-Deborah Jakubs, Duke University Librarian, spoke about preservation advocacy. Deborah spoke about how much donors love their Preservation Lab and that is one of the first places she takes them. This gives donors the idea that we are both protecting the past and reaching for the future in our efforts, in a tangible way.
-Hal Keiner, the first head of the Traveling Archivist Program, spoke about his efforts as he travels North Carolina helping small institutions. Hal provides professional guidance to repositories holding special collections. This includes everything from and assessment to teaching metadata to providing materials housing. This impressive program is meeting these small programs where the rubber meets the road. Hal provides help with: storage, lighting, humidly/environment, finding aid creation and supplies.
-LeRae Umfleet, from the NC Department of Cultural Resources provides support for programs in the 950 cultural institutions across our state. The two programs she focused on was Connecting to Collections and NCEcho. These two programs provide training and advocacy.

V: The lightning rounds were very informative, and a bit longer than typical ones (15 minutes each)! So the speakers weren’t too rushed and shared good details. Of particular interest were:

*David Goist’s slides showing the Tobacco Farm Center and their facilities as well as the ways he helped them to better care for their materials

*Deborah Jakubs’ (director of Duke University libraries) talk about how committed she is to supporting special collections and preservation of materials. As Craig mentioned, she make the conservation lab a main stop on her tours for trustees, possible donors and any tour she gives. Donors then see how traditional functions and still important. She said that she advocates for preservation because it “enables access, enables scholarship, preserves cultural heritage and fulfills our mission of protecting information and collections”. She also stated that it is important to be aware of the limitations of technology and how they can affect access. She summed up her support of collections preservation saying, “We can’t lose sight of the basic function of preservation by focusing on the glitzy new trends… We have to convey the fragility of digital anything… Let’s not lose sight of the print world as we zoom into the digital future.”

*Hal Keiner’s (The Travelling Archivist) descriptions of “teachable moments” that he had when working with an historical site. He shared information with them about changing the UV filters on fluorescent tubes every 5 years, what kinds of proper storage enclosures to use, how to use drapes to cut down on the amount of light reaching a display, and how to use “fabulous fakes” (i.e. copies from a color copier) in the displays instead of originals.

*LeRae Umfleet’s enthusiastic presentation on suggestions from the NC Department of Cultural Resources on how to find support for collections. Some ideas include helping with exhibits on conservation, hosting presentations for family heirloom care, asking people to “adopt an artifact” so they will have a direct connection to helping preserve it, and having different “elevator pitches” ready to give to different people, depending on their interests and how they can help you.

C: Eryl Wentworth, the Executive Director of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) spoke about their advocacy and outreach efforts. Eryl said we are ‘at war with a mouse’ (Disney); at war with a disposable society (why save?) and at war with our economy (no funding). Wentworth said we are strongest when we collaborate. Eryl spoke about some of AIC’s efforts at outreach : CooL (Conservation online) and conservators-converse.org. Her recommendations were to be mission driven; promote your strengths; always send a positive message; engage others by talking and listening; continually enlarge your circle of supporters and seek collaborations.

V: I appreciated Eryl’s recommendations, and was pleased to note that we are trying to follow several of those ideas in special collections currently. Her comments reinforced that we are on the right track as we move into the future.

It seems that when budgets are tight, libraries, museums, archives and historic sites become viewed as nice “extras”, but not as necessities. While I’m sure none of us at ZSR would agree with that, that sentiment is why we must continually advocate for what we do to preserve what we have; so that we can assure the long term survival of historic information and resources. We were glad to be part of this conference and hear from our colleagues that we are not alone in many of our struggles, and that there are resources to help us continue to do the best we can to preserve the materials entrusted to our care.