(Research, Libraries, Archives Collections Conservation Task Force)

(Co-sponsored with SI Archives Council)

D. van der Reyden, CAL, 3/11/93

For a list of participants see the attached list.

The visit to NARA consisted of three sessions, as follows:

Session 1) Morning lectures by Chief Conservator Norvell Jones and Training Conservator Mary Lynn Ritzenthaller

Session 2) Tour of a holdings maintenance project in the stacks and of a rehousing project for rolled materials in the conservation laboratory

Session 3) Afternoon discussion on the relevance of NARA's activities with respect to the Smithsonian's research collections, libraries and archives.

Session 1) Norvell Jones opened the morning session by sketching and explaining a flow chart of the various bureau offices of NARA which includes a division of preservation policy and services (NNP) that is responsible for the long-range (20 years) conservation plan for NARA. Norvell described each bureau office (listed below by correspondence code) and its relationship to the division of preservation policy and services (NNP), briefly as follows:

NE= the federal register, which undertakes peripheral preservation activities
NA= administrative office, responsible for budget and facilities
NC= continuing records office, responsible for maintaining and disposing of records
NI= interaction office, which appraises records considered for selection
NE= education office, responsible for exhibition of records
NS= special and regional archives
NL= presidential libraries
NN= primary records repository
        NNP=preservation policy and services division
        NNPD=document preservation division
        NNPS=special media division

The NNP bureau contains the offices of special media (NNPS) and document preservation (NNPD). Document preservation (NNPD) is responsible for treatment of records; interaction with archival staff to identify appropriate projects; keeping preservation policy consistent; keeping archives staff updated on supplies of tools and housing enclosures available from a central purchasing point; and coordinating staff training, among other things. NNPD staff meet with archives staff to identify the major preservation problems facing the institution and to develop project strategies. Projects are prioritized based on the value, use and condition of collections, as determined jointly by archives staff and conservators.

NNPD collaborates with the offices of the presidential libraries and the regional archives on staff training for collections maintenance as well as with the office of education on exhibition planning, all under the central and higher authority of the office of preservation policy (NNP). In response to questions, Norvell noted that the document preservation staff consists of about thirty people, with 46 bench spaces planned for the new Archives II, where the conservation laboratory space will be triple its current size. In contrast, the holding maintenance staff, members of which are designated by each bureau for that bureau, numbers 50-60 individuals. NNPD is responsible for approximately 1 1/2 million cubic feet of paper-based text materials (the SI has about 50-75,000 cubic feet?). In an ironic twist, it was noted that the problem of the poor condition of the collections was used to justify funding to build the new Archives II; conversely, the problem of moving collections in poor condition to the new Archives II building was used to justify the funding required for preservation efforts to stabilize the condition of the collections.

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaller discussed various training programs organized by NNPD. With respect to holdings maintenance training efforts, she noted that handling issues are not intuitive, so NNPD has developed guidelines. Internal training (i.e. training of NARA staff) is tailored to meet special needs, and has included training in media identification and deterioration as well as rehousing, etc. In addition, all new archives staff are required to take a three hour training program taught by NNPD. Finally, NNPD teaches a two day course each year as part of NARA's two year inhouse training program for archivists: NNPD sponsors an introductory two day conservation seminar on handling and holding maintenance during the first year and a more advanced two day seminar on environment, exhibition and treatment issues during the second year. This program use to include a one month period of training in the conservation lab on housing, drycleaning, etc. However, it was perceived that engaging the administrative staffs in preservation efforts was more important than training auxiliary staff in lab practices. NNPD also undertakes external training, that is, training for visitors using the records collections.

NNPD emphasizes consistent methods, materials and strategy throughout NARA when addressing issues of relative value, specific needs, use, stability, and quality of housing of collections. NNPD has an annual work plan to access the amount of staff needed, the groups of records which will be targeted, etc., based on the level of preservation effort deemed appropriate. NNPD currently uses a designation of "completed' or "incomplete" to track progress in care of the collections, although a phased approach was used previously.

Norvell Jones concluded the morning lecture session with a discussion of NARA's 12 regional archives offices, which provided a close analogy to the SI's various museum bureaus. To insure consistency, NNPD has established a regional preservation coordinator who serves as a liaison with each of the regional archives. Each regional archives has preservation officers trained in environmental control, holdings maintenance, etc. NNPD plans to add preservation technicians to regional archives to carry out specified activities following central policies, as exemplified by a humidification and flattening project in the lab in San Francisco. Each regional archives has access to central supplies and training. In addition, the coordinator visits regional archives on a regular basis to conduct training on site, tailored to meet the needs of the archives. In conclusion, Norvell noted that NNPD is planning programs for training videos and pre-program internships.

Session 2) The morning lectures were followed by tours of a holdings maintenance (rehousing) operation in the stacks, and an explanation by Sarah Wagner in the conservation laboratory of some new housing designs for rolled materials and groups of collections.

Session 3) The afternoon consisted of three hours of discussion among SI staff about the lectures and tours, and their application to SI. This generated several areas of consensus and commitment, along with ideas such as reviewing discussion papers to formalize consistent terminology, procedures, and sequences of approach to preservation at the SI; establishing a central repository for slides and photos of SI paper materials illustrating specific problems; and selecting new topics for lectures in FY 94 (including inviting NARA's Steve Puglia to speak about photographic reformatting issues, and Diana Alpers to speak about staff training at the regional archives). A more ambitious commitment was made by members to write a grant to fund a central supply of housing and storage materials as part of the SI mandate for centralized disaster prevention efforts. Such a grant would serve the additional purposes of enabling the rehousing of collections in several museums (NMNH, NASM, Freer/Sackler) which would not only safeguard the collections, but also provide an estimate of materials and cost required to rehouse other collections; provide preventive care training for staff; and encourage these bureaus to designate such staff as part of a permanent collections maintenance group.