Preliminary Research (alt title: Reach for the Tsars!)


Before I get too deep into thinking about my particular survey instrument, it seemed appropriate to investigate surveys in general.

I began my research with a review of all the survey material I read while taking Preservation (INLS 753) with Beth Doyle here at UNC last fall. I first picked up a NEDCC paper from 2003 by Beth Patkus. This one is a tad long (~100 pages), but it started me off with some good, broad definitions. My field experience will develop a collection condition survey, rather than a preservation planning survey. Because the collection is small enough, this project will also be item-by-item rather than a statistical (or random sampling) survey. This simplifies things a bit because I do not have to worry about creating a statistically valid sample. By the nature of the collection, I am also assured that  This article also got me thinking about all the variables that a survey could address. I am fortunate in that my survey will be quite focused – all the items are bound volumes, I am not concerned with environmental conditions, shelving, security, etc.

Next I moved onto a short 2007 paper by Margaret Childs. The author describes the overarching goal of a survey when she says, “The information gathered in the condition of the collections… eventually have to be weighed against the resources that can be mobilized by the institution and the technical abilities of the staff available to address the needs identified” (para. 15). As I develop my survey instrument, I must always keep in mind the ends to which the resulting data will be used and endeavor to keep it as efficient as possible.

After reviewing a few more articles on general collection surveys, I consulted a paper by Teper and Erekson on condition surveys for uncataloged special collections. The survey that this article describes is interesting in that it is attempting to gather information on material that is not accessible. The appendix includes a copy of the survey form used. It is a very long form, including boxes for rating damage from 1-5, usability  from 1-3, and bibliographic information. It also includes all manner of options to describe condition, such as binding style, covering material, boards, endsheets, paper, and decoration. While this form is exhaustive in its attempt to describe each item completely, the detail of it is quite inappropriate for my project. In my case, it will be useful to know if an item’s enclosure is in disrepair – but I will not need to record the style of said enclosure. The paper did mention a 2004 article by Green that sounds more closely related to the project at hand.

Finally, I read an article from 2006 by Francisco Trujillo on the Russian Imperial Collection at LoC. This article was the most apt in that it stressed the need of the survey instrument to “establish the division of labor between conservator and technician” (p. 39). Different people with different levels of training will ultimately be doing the treatments for the materials, and a survey must be designed with this in mind. In the case of the Tsar’s Collection survey, specific problem areas that a technician could handle were identified. If a conservator was needed for the treatment, it was identified as “major treatment”. A similar designation would probably be appropriate for my project, however, the specific fields will be refined. This does present a learning curve for me, because while I can easily identify a split joint or board detachment, what distinguishes a “major treatment” at present eludes me.

While none of these readings answered all my questions, I at least feel better oriented intellectually in the subject of surveys. I am confident that as I gain a better understanding of the collection and the purpose of this project the answers to those questions will come.

Works Cited

1. Childs, M. (2007). “Preservation assessment and planning”, a Preservation Leaflet, Northeast Document Conservation Center, MA: NEDCC.

Retrieved from

2. Patkus, B. (2003). Assessing preservation needs: A self-survey guide. Northeast Document Conservation Center, MA: NEDCC.

Retrieved from

3. Teper, J.H., Erekson, S.M. (2006). The condition of our “hidden” rare book collections. Library Resources & Technical Services, 50 (3), 200-213.

4. Trujillo, F. (2006). The tsar is dead! Long live the tsar’s collection. Book and Paper Group Annual, 25, 39-42.


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