California Preservation Program

Helping preserve heritage collections

Responsibilities of Library Staff

Reaching Your Customers

Cultivating the public’s awareness of the need to treat library materials with careful handling may be one of the most difficult tasks faced by library personnel. Everyone approaches the library with a personal need and usually behaves in a way that satisfies that need. So if that need is the photocopying of several pages, for example, that person is probably not concerned with possible damage that might be done to the binding. Similarly, if highlighting aids the student in reviewing or summarizing content, or if dog-earing takes less effort than using a bookmark, or if a patron finds it easier to tear a recipe out of the magazine than to copy it, that person will often follow the course that is easiest and most personally beneficial. It is a tough problem for the librarian to solve because it is an attitudinal problem.

Education of Library Staff

Respect for community property needs to begin with library staff members who see the places where they work as public trusts, not as my library. They teach, both directly and by example, how to use and how to handle materials with respect. Library administration and staff members are the key to successful preservation education for library staff and users. The administration must actively support the importance of preservation education for the staff, such as allowing release time for training, funding for proper book repair materials, and improved containers for interlibrary loans or branch-to-branch transport. Library staff must learn new ways of working and must be educated to the extent that they buy into the library’s preservation effort and choose to participate.

When considering preservation education, one must think of the entire library environment, from its physical appearance and comfort level to its public services and collections. Explaining to users from a preservation standpoint, why the temperature is set cooler, why the air circulation is strong, why the blinds are pulled down on sunny windows shows in a visible way that the library staff and administration take action to care for the collections. Likewise, instructional graphics over photocopy machines can visually show the kindest and gentlest way to copy books. “No food/drink” posters can depict the damage done by spills on library materials and the lure of food in the building for insects and rodents. The community of customers can relate to all of these examples when they are presented positively and supported by further explanation by informed staff members.

Education for Behavior Change

To elicit a positive response to preservation education, it is more effective to use preservation-related messages in the library rather than to display a list of do’s and don’ts.

Fit these little preservation bites of information into all sorts of library encounters such as:

  • Assistance at public service desks
  • Bibliographic instruction sessions
  • Story hours and library tours
  • Point-of-use instructions for reference sources

The teachable moment is everywhere and should not be overlooked for its impact. And when you combine preservation bites of information with related posters, exhibits, handouts, and bookmarks, the preservation message will come across loud and clear.

What Preservation Education Means

The goal of preservation education is to inform and educate the public in using library materials in the least damaging way. All use takes its toll, but there is use and there is misuse. Preservation does not mean denial of access. Preservation of materials actually enhances access for present and future users, as long as those materials are needed. Preservation in the present means access in the future.


How to contact us: E-mail: info@CalPreservation.org or,
Join our listserv: CaLibArc-Preserv discussion list