Maximizing A Library Budget For Collections Care Best Practices

by | Sep 5, 2023 | Blog, Library Collection

Operating on a tight library budget doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on effective collections care. By adhering to achievable best practices based on your own unique situation and employing innovative strategies, you can ensure the preservation of your library’s valuable resources. Let’s dive into some of the most effective ways to maximize collections care on a limited budget.

1. Prioritize preventive conservation

Preventive conservation can be one of the most cost-effective strategies for collections care. Preventive measures, such as controlling environmental conditions, regular cleaning, and careful handling, can prevent damage before it occurs.

Investing in staff training on these aspects can help extend the life of your collection without straining the library budget. Staff trained in preventative care measures will be able to identify potential problems and threats to the collections before they become realized damage. Even minor preventive measures across your spaces will be more cost-effective for your library budget if you consider dollar-spent-per-object as opposed to object-specific treatments which will require conservation-grade materials and conservator hours. This means you can save your treatment budget only for those objects with priority needs due to their condition or use frequency.

2. Leverage digital preservation and digitization

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) underscores the importance of digital preservation in the era of shrinking budgets. They define digital preservation as “all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organizational change.”

Make sure you don’t confuse digital preservation with digitization.

“Digital preservation typically refers to the preservation of digital content over time. Digitisation is a related discipline that focuses on creating digital content from non-digital mediums, such as paper or analogue sound recordings.”

When thinking about your library resources, don’t forget to take into account cost, current accessibility and future accessibility caused by technological changes. Figure out which parts of your collection would benefit from digitization (with its associated costs) and don’t forget to keep digital preservation in mind when you do this as that might also affect your present and future budgets.

Talk to your peers through organizations such as the DPC to find the solutions that similar libraries may be using. This way, you avoid comparing your actions to those of institutions with different types of budgets.

3. Collaborate with other institutions

The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) advocates for inter-institutional collaboration as well as resource sharing globally. This can significantly impact your organization’s budget as you may avoid paying to reinvent the wheel.

By collaborating with other institutions, libraries can share the costs and expertise associated with collections care. This can range from joint conservation projects to shared training programs and sharing of solutions, all of which can significantly reduce the burden on your library budget. Don’t be afraid to network and talk to each other in communities built around your specialty.

4. Apply for grants and external funding

The American Library Association (ALA) offers numerous grants which you may leverage for improving collections care.

Applying for grants and other external funding can provide the resources needed for specific preservation projects. While the application process can be time-consuming, the potential benefits for your collection are substantial. If you’d like some more pointers, check out our Definitive Guide to Environmental Monitoring for Collections chapter on finding funding for environmental monitoring programs.

5. Implement a cost-effective collections care plan

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) emphasizes the importance of a well-planned collections care strategy with the implementation of basic requirements of preventive conservation.

Don’t forget to consider running a risk assessment to prioritize your most likely risks and what the potential costs of inaction may be. While it might be okay not to pay $5000 to prevent a $1000 loss, you certainly don’t want to avoid paying $100,000 if it will save you from a $40 million loss!

A good resource to read more on the cost-effectiveness of preventive conservation actions is this paper by Stefan Michalski and Irene Karsten. If you can’t access the paper because it’s not Open Access, here’s some good news! The Canadian Conservation Institute recorded Stefan presenting on the exact same topic and it is free to view online.

Whenever possible, run condition surveys across your stacks and triage for re-housing, relocation and/or conservation treatment. Catching damage early on will be much cheaper than having to treat objects when their condition has worsened.

Conclusion on squeezing the most out of a tight library budget

Having a comprehensive collections care plan and a risk assessment allows you to prioritize tasks and allocate resources more effectively. By focusing on the most urgent needs and planning for the long term, you can make the most of your library budget. Always remember that you are not alone and try to connect with your colleagues through professional organizations and keep an eye out for grants and funding opportunities. In fact, keep an eye out as Conserv occasionally gives out the Conserv Preventive Conservation Award which is specifically aimed at projects around preventative care. You can read what past winners have done with it in our blog.

While a tight library budget can pose challenges, it also encourages creativity and strategic thinking. By adopting these recommendations, you can ensure that your library’s collection remains well-preserved and accessible for present and future generations.

If you have any questions about environmental monitoring, integrated pest management, or just want to talk about preventative conservation, please reach out to us! Don’t forget to check out our blog or join our community of collections care professionals where you can discuss hot topics, connect with your peers or even take a course to get familiar with the Conserv platform.

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