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Preserving Research Collections

Financial Requirements

For scholars, librarians, and their institutions the daunting challenge is to sustain preservation programs to protect research library resources for future scholarship. These collections are not only a major intellectual investment but a capital investment as well. Yet the problem of funding preservation programs is frequently analogous to the problem of funding building maintenance: among the many competing demands for resource allocations, preservation does not always sustain administrators' attention. The pressure to contain costs in higher education has intensified competition for resources. There is a danger that the preservation of print collections will be underfunded and pushed to the margins of institutional concerns. But it is clear that substantial investment in preserving print-based resources will continue to be necessary. And, as the digital library becomes a reality, a major commitment of funds is required to build the requisite technical infrastructure with all the attendant systems for maintaining digital resources and storage media.

Without question, the need for additional funds for preservation is urgent. The cost of preserving the nation's intellectual resources is high. Preservation is capital- and labor-intensive. Yet a look at the present funding support for preservation in research libraries reveals a discouraging picture. Preservation expenditures in ARL libraries have been level since 1993, external funding has been declining steadily, and staffing has declined.33 The negative impact of the reduction in federal funding is especially evident. Direct federal funding has been of critical importance because it encourages other funding, at both the institutional and state levels. The recent cuts in the NEH budget have hurt preservation efforts by research libraries. NEH grant funds played a major role particularly in preservation microfilming. ARL Preservation Statistics 1996-97 documents a drastic decline in microfilming since 1992, when the NEH budget cuts went into effect.34

Meanwhile, the new electronic resources are intensifying pressures on tight budgets. The need is great for continued institutional investment in expanding libraries' capacity to create digital surrogates and preserve original digital resources. The projected cost of maintaining digital collections raises the inevitable question: How will libraries afford to support refreshing and migrating data, or other strategies aimed at ensuring the longevity of digital resources? Not only are there substantial add-on costs for maintaining digital information, but frequently the costs are duplicative. A look at several digitization projects shows that they depend on paper or microfilm for archival retention, with the attendant increase in expense. It is also noteworthy that many digitization projects include manuscripts and other original documents; therefore the digitized reproduction will never take the place of the original, which will still need to be preserved. If financial resources for preservation are not increased, research libraries may be unable to continue to build their preservation programs to the needed levels.

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