Talking Points Preserving Artifacts in Library Collections

  • With the “information explosion,” libraries are facing increasing demand by scholars for access to original, unreformatted documents and other artifacts. Original materials provide values that cannot be replicated in other formats.
  • Libraries are also facing increasing demand for electronic information resources. Electronic resources provide access to data to remote users and permit options for use (e.g., searching) that original materials cannot.
  • Many collections of original materials (on paper and other formats) are at risk of becoming unstable and unusable. The costs for maintaining these collections could be billions of dollars.
  • Libraries continually face demands that outpace their abilities to meet them all, and must make difficult choices as to which resources to provide.
  • Librarians and scholars must come together to identify, select, and preserve original artifacts before they become unusable.
  • The format and process of preservation activities must be deliberated and consensus developed. Depending on the artifact, photocopying, microfilming, digitization, and other formats may be options for preservation. The key issue: Which format provides the closest resemblance to the original and provides for long-term stability and usability of the object?
  • Libraries must also determine how much redundancy is needed in these preservation activities.
  • A meaningful dialogue between scholars, librarians, university administrators, and other users must be established to examine users’ information and research needs, the funding needed to support the long-term maintenance of original materials and artifacts, the role of digital library initiatives and non-print materials , and other related issues.

This information was largely derived from “The Evidence in Hand: the Report of the Task Force on the Artifact in Library Collections” published by the Council on Library and Information Resources. For more information, please see

Additional information about the importance of preservation within research libraries is available through the Association of Research Libraries,