Preservation and Conservation for Libraries and Archives

By Nelly Balloffet and Jenny Hille. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005. xix, 214 pp. Illustrations. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. $125.00. ISBN 0-8389-0879-9.


Review essay published in American Archivist (Vol. 68, No.2, Fall/Winter 2005)


The authors of Preservation and Conservation are not only practicing book and paper conservators, but also hold MLS degrees and have taught workshops on various preservation subjects and conservation techniques for a dozen years. Their love of paper materials, familiarity with archives and libraries, and, most of all, eagerness to teach are readily conveyed to the reader. The result is an instructional reference work, which is clear, concise, and practical. Its focus is paper-based materials, which still comprise the bulk of most archives and library collections. As the title implies, roughly half of the text is dedicated to preservation, “steps that address the overall safekeeping of all the holdings,” and the other half to conservation, “hands-on treatment” (p. xvii). While some of the material covered is inherently technical (e.g., discussions of relative humidity, light, pH, etc.), the authors avoid inundating the reader with formulae and equations; instead they opt for simple sentences that get to the point.

The layout makes this book particularly useful as a reference. In addition to the standard table of contents, each chapter begins with an outline and explanatory introduction. The simply titled sections and subsections are clearly indicated, allowing the reader to jump to the relevant section. Occasionally, information is repeated in more than one section so that the reader does not miss a particularly important point (e.g., information on determining grain direction is covered in “Getting Started” and in “Paper Conservation Techniques”). The index is another easy entry point. This work should be reviewed at first for general instruction and then kept on the shelf for reference.

The book’s tone is calm. Balloffet and Hille discuss common problems such as torn documents, broken bindings, or mold bloom. Then, they describe possible causative factors and move on to instructing the reader on how the problem can be remedied and prevented from reoccurring. Most topics are coupled with simple illustrations (line drawings or black-and-white photographs), cross references to other parts of the book, and further recommended reading.

The chapter, “The Basics of Preservation,” covers a laundry list of topics: environment, with a subsection titled “Coping with Old HVAC Systems”; staff and patron education, with recommendations for flyers, posters, or bookmarks encouraging appropriate care and handling; disaster planning and response, which gives brief guidelines on writing a plan without being overwhelmed by details; and storage methods and furniture. These are all topics worth reading about, both for those of us who have become complacent about preventive preservation techniques and for those seeking an introduction to this subject matter.

The chapters on setting up a work space and simple preservation techniques are equally useful. The authors give advice on what to consider if planning a new space—whether it is eked out within administrative office space or is a dedicated preservation workshop. Considerations include access to water (sinks), office climate control (temperature, RH, light, etc.), and security, as well as furnishings and equipment (cutters, presses, hand tools, etc.). The recommendations are thorough and allow the reader to make informed decisions and appeals to administrators. “Simple Preservation Techniques” covers just that. In fewer than twenty pages, an intern, new part-time employee, student, or volunteer can learn how to make basic decisions about rehousing, how to order and select archival supplies, what “archival supplies” means, safe-handling procedures, and even how to make simple enclosures.

The conservation sections of the book begin with succinct overviews of the characteristics of Japanese and Western papers as well as bookbinding structure and terminology. These are extremely useful terms for archivists and librarians to know in order to speak knowledgeably about collection materials (damaged or not). The supplies needed to conduct paper and book repairs are described at length. The instructions for repairs are detailed and well illustrated. For paper conservation, the reader is reminded to prepare materials by removing fasteners, surface cleaning, and relaxing/flattening paper. The necessary steps for conservation and repair are described in such a way that this book could serve as a training manual. The repair techniques covered are mending tears, holes, corners and foldout maps, attaching hinges, and guarding. The section regarding book repair describes techniques intended for research collections, and the authors strongly state that “rare or valuable books should not be repaired in-house by these methods” (p. 107). The book repair techniques covered include simple repairs to the case and text block, as well as pamphlet binding and care of children’s books. Although more attention is given to book repair, the section on paper is not lacking; in fact, it covers more than most archivists are equipped or have time to do.

Balloffet and Hille know that most archives and libraries are under pressure to exhibit materials, so they dedicate a chapter to the topic. “Small Exhibitions” provides guidelines for designing an exhibition, includes sample condition report forms, and covers installing and closing the show. The reader is instructed in all aspects of framing paper materials and supporting books. The section on book supports is well done and allows for custom-made book cradles without a burdensome expense.

A series of appendices complements Preservation and Conservation for Libraries and Archives. The first, “Care of Photographs,” is nine pages long and covers handling, rehousing and appropriate storage enclosures, environment, kinds of damage, and conditions for display. This is a good review for those familiar with photographs and a sound introduction for those just starting out. The next two appendices are listings, first vendors of supplies, conservation binderies, and salvage companies and then “Sources of Help and Advice.” The lists are annotated and include addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and URLs. Hopefully, the inclusion of so much information will help the lists stay current. The five-page glossary section includes a sampling of technical terms, but would be more useful if defined words were italicized within the text so that the reader knew to consult it while reading.

I recommend reading Balloffet and Hille’s Preservation and Conservation for Libraries and Archives is from cover-to-cover, keeping it as a reference resource, and using it as an instruction manual for staff. The tone of the book respects the materials for which archivists and librarians care. It also empowers archivists and librarians themselves by teaching us practical ways to protect our holdings.


Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich ( Conn.)