In 2005, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), together with Heritage Preservation, released A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report. Based on the first comprehensive survey ever conducted of the condition and preservation needs of our nation’s collections; the report was an in-depth look at the state of collections care in U.S. libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and scientific organizations. The results were sobering to say the least:
- 190 million objects held by archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and scientific organizations in the United States are in need of conservation treatment.
- 65 percent of collecting institutions have experienced damage to collections due to improper storage.
- 80 percent of collecting institutions do not have an emergency plan that includes collections, with staff trained to carry it out.
- 40 percent of institutions have no funds allocated in their annual budgets for preservation or conservation.
The report made the following recommendations:
- Institutions must give priority to providing safe conditions for the collections they hold in trust.
- Every collecting institution must develop an emergency plan to protect its collection and train staff to carry it out.
- Every institution must assign responsibility for caring for collections to members of its staff.
- Individuals at all levels of government in the private sector must assume responsibility for providing the support that will allow these collections to survive.
In 2006, IMLS launched Connecting to Collections: A Call to Action, an initiative that prioritizes safe conditions for collections, emergency plans, accountability, and leveraging private and public sector support for collections care. Connecting to Collections has sought to raise public awareness, inspire action, and implement best practices. To help organizations implement best practices in collections care and conservation, including emergency plans and disaster response and recovery, IMLS made funding available through the following:
- Connecting to Collections Statewide Planning Grants: This discretionary grant program fostered the establishment of collaborative networks among collecting organizations to formulate statewide plans that would identify common challenges and design solutions that would benefit all. Awards were made to each of the 50 states, plus American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Marianas Islands, Palau, and the Virgin Islands between 2008 and 2010.
- Connecting to Collections Statewide Implementation Grants: This discretionary program funded projects that implemented the plans or models created through IMLS Connecting to Collections Statewide Planning Grants. Nineteen awards made between 2010 and 2012 have provided assistance to 20 states. The final several of these projects will be completed this year.
Some of the positive impacts of the Connecting to Collections Statewide Planning Grants include:
- Collaborative groups, including archives, historical societies, libraries, and museums were formed, and the activities of many of these groups have continued through Connecting to Collections Implementation Grant projects and beyond.
- The Connecting to Collections Initiative raised the profile of preservation in the states and across the nation through workshops, conferences, statewide summits, and the reports on survey activities and other projects.
- Baseline preservation knowledge grew among participants in the project as a result of participating in survey projects and through the preservation site surveys, workshops, and conferences associated with the statewide projects.
- New program ideas developed in one state were often utilized in other states. Methods of raising awareness or “marketing” preservation that were used to great success in Virginia also found success in other states, and states and territories have shared successful strategies with each other through articles, reports, and interactions at cultural heritage association meetings.
- One of the potential impacts with the longest-lasting positive effect has been the identification and growth of new preservation leaders in states that participated in Connecting to Collections Planning Grant projects.
To see an depth report of the results of the planning grant, you may want to take a look at The Value of the Connecting to Collections Statewide Planning Grant report. This report written by consultants Danielle Cunniff Plumer, DCPlumer Associates, L.L.C, and Tom Clareson, LYRASIS as part of a grant project awarded to Heritage Preservation, Inc. (RE-06-10-0089-10), looks at these Statewide Planning Grants to assess their impact and to identify ways for us to move forward in caring for our nation’s treasures.
The report brings together the results of important, exploratory work that united museums, libraries, and archives in new, unprecedented ways. The concerns of these communities intersect at collections care. Now new relationships exist, there are concrete examples of how organizations worked together, and there are models for continuing to do so in collections care and in other areas of mutual concern. To summarize the work of the report, three areas were highlighted:
- “Rip off and duplicate!” The report highlights the impressively creative approaches developed by several projects and points out how these ideas have been adapted and replicated by others. This leverages both federal and local support and maximizes the impact of every dollar. Everyone likes to see that! And, if you have met and seen Tom Clareson present, you have certainly heard him use this phrase!
- What’s next? Learnings for next time. Each state was able to structure its project in a way that made the most sense for its collection care communities. The report’s in-depth look at how surveys were similar and different, and how that affected results gives us useful information about how such national initiatives might best be structured in the future.
- The value of sharing. How can we share the incredible good work that results from the projects supported by and made possible by IMLS and these organizations? In general, this is achieved through topical convenings, conference presentations, project-specific white papers, and similar mechanisms, but publishing an account of all the projects completed under a particular grant initiative like this, in this report, is a first step. But what else can be done?
Although the planning grants have been completed, the work of the Connecting to Collections initiative continues through ongoing Statewide Implementation Grants through resources, discussions, and webinars presented as part of the Connecting to Collections Care (C2CC) Online Community at www.connectingtocollections.org. You can still be a part of the project by joining the community. Everything is free, and you can register here to become a full participant.
*Special thanks to Connie Cox Bodner, Ph.D., Supervisory Grants Management Specialist at IMLS, for collaborating on this article with LYRASIS.