Survey Fields

This past week, the initial Excel spreadsheet with identification information on the survey items was finished and loaded onto the library network drive. Jan and I finalized the fields and responses for the survey instrument and I added them as columns. I used the list feature in Excel to create drop-down menus for each cell. This is advantageous for our survey instrument because it limits responses and eliminates typos. In all fields we included a “No/None”  response as a means to visually confirm that an item had been completely reviewed.

Here is a screen shot of our spreadsheet:

Screenshot of Survey Fields

Libby Chenault at the RBC provided call number, author, title, year, and geographic location for each of the ~200 volumes. In addition a “Type field has been included that assigns the item to a particular category, such as “Atlas“, “Travelogue“, “History“, etc. This information will be used at a later date to determine priority within the collection.

The survey fields are broken up into five parts. The first field is titled “Needs Enclosure“. The available responses for this field are “No“, “Tuxedo“, and “Other“.  Tuxedo refers to a quickly constructed style of four-flap custom enclosure that can be made by student assistants in the lab. Tuxedo boxes are appropriate for smaller, lightweight items that need protection and stability. “Other” refers to any other style of enclosure (such as corrugated clamshell boxes or drop-spine boxes) that may be required. This type of enclosure is appropriate for larger and heavier books.

For the next two fields, we separated the description of the condition into”Textblock” and “Structure”. The textblock field has three responses: “None”, “Minor”, and “Extensive”. The possible responses for structure are”None”, “Inner Joint Splitting”, “Outer Joint Splitting”, “Boards Detached”,” and “Major Treatment”. I plan to include photographs of items that exhibit each of these conditions as I come across them.

The fourth field, “PST”, stands for Pressure Sensitive Tape. The possible responses are “Yes” and “No”, indicating if tape is found on the binding or pages.

The final field is “Treatment Level” and identifies the level of training required to perform the repairs. The possible responses are “None”, “Technician”, and “Conservator”.

The next step in the survey process is to run a pilot on a small number of items as a way of checking the design.

Of Instruments and Priorities…

This week, I met with Jan to go over my research and clarify my understanding of the project. Here is a brief synopsis of our discussion:

First we have established the means of data capture, organization, and backup for the survey. Libby Chenault at the Rare Book Collection (RBC) is in the process of assembling a list of volumes with their basic bibliographic information in a Microsoft Excel document. When the list is complete, we will add in our survey fields as additional columns. This system offers several advantages: first, the software is installed on all machines in the building. Excel offers easy-to-use sorting features, allowing the items to be sorted by repair/treatment when the survey is complete. Additionally, the spreadsheet will be stored on a department network drive that is accessible by all parties and is backed up regularly. Finally, this solution doesn’t require the intervention or assistance of the systems department – thus allowing us to begin sooner.

Next we discussed the details of the survey instrument. Here, Jan stressed the importance of a lean survey. The fields on the form that we design must capture only the most necessary information to fulfill the goals of the survey. Superfluous categories will make the survey take longer and may even obscure the data analysis at the end. As Jan succinctly put it, “There are only so many conservator hours in the world.” With so many other items in the library’s collection, it is important to critically engage the survey at the beginning to avoid wasted time and effort. Good questions to ask in the development phase of the assessment process are: What is the survey for? The goal of our survey is to develop a strategy to best care for the items in this collection given the available resources. For all intents and purposes “resources” equals time and money.

In order to meet our goal, there are certain things we must know. First, we need to know the condition of each item. Our instrument should be able to give us an idea of an item’s problems that is not too granular, but is useful for eventual batching of treatments and may provide a relative time estimate for the project. Related to this, the instrument must be able to give us a clear view of the range of conservation needs for the items in this group. This feature could conceivably alert the conservators if new lab work flows are needed.  Finally, I must become comfortable with assessing the condition of an item. For our instrument, we decided that it may be better to use fields that describe an item’s specific conditions, as opposed to “levels” or time commitment. Because this is my first experience with assessments, I may not be able to accurately estimate the time an item will require.

Another important topic that our meeting clarified for me was the difference between the priority of the item and the priority of the repair. In the article on the Tsar’s Collection at LoC (see last post) ample money and staffing allowed for every item in the collection to receive top priority. The author’s concern was which types of treatment should be performed first. For this project, the needs of the collection being surveyed must be weighed against the needs of the RBC as a whole. Therefore, our concern is the condition of the item in the context of its importance to the collection. In this case, the conservation lab will be working with the curator to establish item priority based on the needs of the patrons.

I should note a thought that occurred to me as I was doing my research. Should the library have plans to digitize items in this collection, how would that affect the survey? When I brought this up at the meeting, I learned that digitization would likely have no bearing on the treatment of the item, so it was outside the scope of the instrument. It would, however affect the item’s priority.

A few words on grants and surveys: I am learning that it is important, in this stage, to ask oneself if a grant can be written from the information gathered with the survey.  Over the next week, I will be reading through the proposal requirements for two grants and comparing them with what we have already discussed.

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.