For the past week since Sunday, the Yale University Library joined other libraries across the United States to celebrate National Preservation Week.
The staff of Sterling Memorial Library has been hard at work labelling books that need to be repaired, a project that was completed this Monday, afixing orange tags to those that need attention and green tags to those that have already been restored. This application of tags — seen on levels 7, 5 and 1M — are part of an annual celebration that aims to highlight the importance of preserving personal and public collections. In addition to the demonstration in the stacks, Yale is partnering with the New Haven library and providing workshops to educate the community on preserving and caring for personal archives of books and photographs.
“Everyone always thinks about computers, but books are where it all began,” said Roberta Pilette, director of the library preservation department, as she held an early 20th century book with pages that were beginning to deteriorate. “It’s satisfying to see how much green there is.”
Pilette said preservation includes scanning and reprinting books with pages that have started to decay. She added that the process may even involve putting new binding on old books that are falling apart.
“We want the students to have access to the information in a good package,” Pilette said. “The big question is will this book survive a student’s backpack.”
Christine McCarthy, the chief conservator at the preservation department, said most of the books that need repairs are those identified by students and faculty when they check them out. Books that are checked out regularly take priority, she said. In addition, the library occasionally surveys the shelves, one subject at a time, to help spot deteriorating books that would otherwise go overlooked.
McCarthy said that this subject-specific system helps the conservators of the library keep track of what books have been reviewed and which are still in need of a review.
The crucial aspect of preservation is the decision making process, she added. Taking into consideration the availability of resources as well as the relative importance of the material in question, the library has to decide which books need immediate attention, McCarthy said.
“Our motto is ‘save it all,’” McCarthy said. ”It’s staggering to see how many objects of cultural heritage are at risk.”
Three students interviewed said they tried to take good care of their books.
“I’d be hard pressed to imagine that anyone is abusing these books,” said Matthew Mitcheltree ‘13.
Although certain books which have reached the end of their life span might not be repaired, McCarthy said the library would never discard a book due to limited resources, adding that those books are stored in an “enclosure box” while they await repairs.
The American Library Association launched Preservation Week last year. Yale is participating in Preservation Week for the first time this year. The Yale University Library collections total over 14 million pieces.