Ross Harvey and Martha R. Mahard's The Preservation Management Handbook: A 21st Century Guide for Libraries, Archives and Museums is a useful new tool for professionals responsible for preservation of all sorts of collections. The authors are both experts on preservation and have taught at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. Each has experience with traditional and digital preservation practices, and they combine the two areas of expertise in this book. To augment their expertise, Harvey and Mahard recruited experts in their fields to write chapters on holdings protection and many types of materials. No current textbook addresses preservation management for cultural heritage, so this book is a welcome addition to the literature.
The Preservation Management Handbook is divided into four sections. The first deals with preservation fundamentals, including a look at the rapid changes that digital preservation has introduced into the field. This section also covers the basic principles of preservation, preservation policy, assessment, and disaster planning. This section is a compact fifty-eight pages and in that short space summarizes the basic theories of preservation in cultural heritage institutions. For some of the topics, the information is slim at best. For example, disaster planning and recovery covers all of three pages. However, this book is an introduction to the topic, and many of the issues that are given a cursory treatment here have been covered exhaustively elsewhere in the literature. A bibliography provides further reading options; however, as it is not organized by topic, it can be time consuming to find the best sources.
The second section unites two fairly disparate topics under the heading of “Collections.” The first chapter in this section deals with the distinctions between artifacts and information and the preservation requirements of each. The section on artifacts focuses on books and paper, including some discussion of the mechanisms by which books and paper deteriorate. Reformatting is covered in the section on information, which includes a brief discussion of microfilm and preservation photocopying as well as digitization. The second chapter discusses the preservation environment, including buildings, trusted digital repositories, and best practices for regulating temperature, relative humidity, and other environmental factors.
Section 3, entitled “Materials and Objects,” contains just one chapter on creating preservation-friendly objects. While it is a short section, the topics range widely and include everything from metadata to permanent paper to considering the wishes of the artist as to how a work is preserved. In an archival context, considering how to create objects with a better chance of lasting for centuries is probably most useful in discussing digital objects, since few repositories choose the formats of the analog materials that they receive.
Finally, section 4, “Media and Material,” is a compendium of chapters on the common types of materials found in cultural heritage collections, and it contains much of the nuts and bolts “how-to” information that will interest archivists charged with diverse collections. After an initial chapter on “Holdings Protection” written by the National Archives and Records Administration's Holdings Protection Team, chapters follow on paper and books, photographs, sound materials, moving image materials, digital storage, textiles, and paintings. These chapters all adhere to a basic template that includes information about the composition of the material and how it is used, recommendations for storage and the environment, disaster response, and extensive lists of further reading. This section functions as a quick reference and contains the basics that staff need to know to preserve most archival collection materials in common situations. It promises to be invaluable, particularly to archivists without formal training or prior experience with preservation.
This is a very strong book that belongs on any archives' preservation bookshelf. From a practical standpoint, the fourth section alone makes the book worth the investment. It is difficult to find books that address so many diverse materials. While the information in this section is by necessity not as in-depth as a dedicated book would be, it answers the most commonly asked questions and provides excellent resources for further research. This will likely be the section that archivists turn to time and time again for quick answers to their preservation questions.
The more theoretical sections are equally useful. One of the best and most interesting ideas put forth by Harvey and Mahard is that “there are preservation principles that apply to all kinds of materials, whether digital or analog” (p. 4). Generally, traditional preservation and digital preservation have been treated as different disciplines, which can make crossover between the two special-ties difficult. For someone with a background in traditional preservation, The Preservation Management Handbook can help demystify the theory behind digital preservation. For a digital preservation expert, the information on traditional preservation is useful context. The authors point out the fundamental shift in the preservation landscape over recent decades, all driven by information technology. To effectively preserve collections, an understanding of digital preservation is crucial. Integrating digital and traditional preservation into the same book presents the reader with challenging perspective shifts, but the knowledge gained is invaluable.
A few things would make the book stronger. Section 4 (“Media and Material”) is thorough, but not comprehensive. While it is impossible to include every single type of material found in cultural heritage collections, chapters on wooden artifacts, metals, ceramics, and ethnographic artifacts would have been useful, particularly for archives and small museums without conservators on staff. Archives often end up with these kinds of materials in their collections, and, because archivists tend to have less experience with these types of objects, a quick reference on preserving them would be very welcome. In their preface, Harvey and Mahard note that these types of materials are covered elsewhere. However, they say that they intend this book to be “an essential one-stop point of reference for cultural heritage professionals” (p. xvii), so omitting some major categories of materials is problematic.
Additionally, some of the organizational choices are confusing. For example, the “Media and Material” section contains the chapter on “Holdings Protection,” however, that chapter might more properly belong in section 2 (“Collections”), which deals with the preservation environment. It is also odd that section 3 (“Materials and Objects”) only has one chapter. The information in that chapter might have been integrated into section 2 as well. Both of these issues are minor quibbles that do not detract from the overall excellence of the work.
As stated earlier, The Preservation Management Handbook would be useful for any archives. It presents the basic principles in preservation management with a twenty-first-century perspective, integrating traditional preservation with digital and providing preservation information on many of the materials typically found in archives. The format is clear, particularly in the chapters on each kind of material, which makes it easy to find an answer quickly. That the book is designed for libraries, archives, and museums is exciting, perhaps even enhancing possibilities for partnerships on collaborative preservation projects between institutions. The book promises to be useful in a classroom setting as well, giving students a strong understanding of the most important concepts in managing preservation programs in any type of cultural heritage institution.
Ross Harvey, Martha R. Mahard, and the many expert contributors of chapters on materials have created a much-needed textbook that fills a void in the literature. The Preservation Management Handbook is a must-have work for archivists involved in the preservation of cultural heritage collections, particularly those in small institutions or without a formal preservation background.