Fenella G France
Chief, Preservation Research and Testing Division
Library of Congress
As we are forced to address the physicality issues of print collections, understanding and interpreting collection data is a critical concern. To advance our presence in the digital realm we need to understand more about collections (what can be digitized) and depending on condition, how effective decisions are made for prioritizing digitization. A national research initiative funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “Assessing the Physical Condition of the National Collection,” is undertaking the task of providing data to objectively assess the condition of books held in the United States by performing an in-depth scientific analysis on a representative sample. Many institutions are currently making withdrawal and retention decisions based on subjective and incomplete information. The research is collecting physical, chemical, and optical data on about 500 “identical” volumes from six institutions for books from 1840-1940. The ultimate goal is to fill gaps in knowledge about materials at risk, and allow institutions to accurately predict good quality and poor quality copies of books. Effectively collating the trends and creating knowledge from this data have raised issues of information access, reuse, and constant re-interpretation as well as the information platforms and infrastructures best suited for this challenge.