Library Services


UCL Special Collections Preservation Policy

1. Introduction

UCL Library Services recognises its responsibilities to preserve its Special Collections in an accessible and safe condition, in perpetuity, to support the teaching and research of UCL and for the use of present and future generations. These responsibilities are further endorsed through UCL Library Services' membership of Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and its commitments to the global community of research libraries and their users.
Currently, the bulk of the centrally managed UCL Special Collections materials are housed at The National Archives, Kew (TNA); the remainder are stored on the main UCL campus.

Other smaller Special Collections are located in 11 other UCL Library Services sites as follows:

  • UCL Cruciform Library
  • UCL The Bartlett School, Faculty of the Built Environment Library
  • UCL Language & Speech Science Library
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology Library
  • UCL Institute of Orthopaedics Library
  • UCL Institute of Child Health Library
  • UCL Institute of Laryngology & Otology & RNID Library
  • UCL Institute of Ophthalmology Library
  • UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology Library
  • Royal Free Hospital, UCL Medical Library
  • UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies Library

For a definition of 'Special Collections' see 4, below and for a description of UCL Library Services, Special Collections; see: the Library's web pages.

2. Policy Principles

This policy sets out what UCL Library Services will do to achieve its duty of care for all its Special Collections while maintaining and promoting access to these collections. The policy provides a comprehensive statement on the preservation and conservation requirements for Special Collections, and highlights the particular standards and procedures appropriate to maintain the integrity of all the items designated as Special Collections, including their historical, textual, pictorial, and physical content. Moreover, material in original format (whether paper-based or otherwise) will be preserved in perpetuity and access will be provided to original and surrogate formats as appropriate. This policy refers to particular standards and procedures appropriate for non-digital formats only (see: Reprographics, Surrogates and Photocopying, 11 below).

In fulfilling these duties, UCL Library Services adheres to the principles of preservation and conservation for Special Collections as recommended in British Standards Institution, PD5454:2012; by the National Preservation Office (NPO); the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA); the Institute of Conservation (ICON) and the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers' Organisations (ECCO).

3. Purpose of the Preservation Policy

The purpose of this Preservation Policy is to provide direction to all UCL Library Services staff who have responsibility for Special Collections in order that they may carry out their collection management responsibilities as these relate to the preservation and conservation needs of Special Collections in an informed way.
It is further recognised that this Preservation Policy must be readily available to all those who have direct and/or indirect dealings with the long-term care and safety of Special Collections wherever these are stored and consulted.

4. Definitions

For the purposes of this policy, UCL Library Services has adopted the following definitions for Special Collections Materials, Preservation, Conservation, and Archival Quality Materials:

Definition of Special Collections Materials

UCL Library Services holds a large number of Special Collections which by virtue of the uniqueness or rarity of the items contained within them, their physical form, content, depth of subject coverage or other special significance, are distinguished from the general stock of the Library and receive special treatment in terms of housing and security, management, cataloguing, handling, consultation, preservation and conservation. By their nature they also form part of the local, national, and international documentary heritage.

An item or collection of items is normally designated as, added to or acquired by Special Collectionsif it fulfils the first and one or more of the following criteria:

  1. It complements, enriches or builds on the subject strengths of existing special collections (as detailed in the UCL Special Collections Collection Management Policy) and/or the UCL Library Services Collection Management Policy
  2. It has been identified as supporting UCL teaching and/or research needs
  3. It is of intrinsic local (UCL), national or international heritage significance
  4. It is written in or contains items written in manuscript format
  5. It is intrinsically Archival in form and content, or it has been designated as archival in content. (For the purposes of this policy, Archival is further defined as an item or group of items in any medium that have been created by an individual, family, business or organisation during its existence, and have been chosen to be kept permanently or not otherwise disposed of because they are considered to be of continuing and historical value. Groups of personal papers or individual items are also often known as manuscript collections or manuscripts. Such items are unique and irreplaceable. Archives are not just written documents on paper or parchment, such as wills, diaries and letters. They may be photographs; audio-visual material like sound recordings and films; maps, plans and drawings; printed matter such as an organisation's minutes or accounts)
  6. It is a Rare Printed Work or contains rare printed works. (For the purposes of this policy, a Rare Printed Work is further defined as fulfilling one or more of the following categories:

    1. Created earlier than 1850
    2. Significant provenance
    3. Special bibliographic significance (a first edition, out of print, limited or special edition, a fine binding, privately published or small press items)
    4. Significant cultural or historical value (e.g. association items, inscribed Items, items of known scarcity value)
  7. It enhances the reputation of, or is of special local or historical significance to UCL
  8. Its physical format, fragility or vulnerability requires special storage conditions and care in handling

Definition of Preservation

Preservation includes all managerial and financial considerations, including storage and accommodation provision; staffing levels, including the management of volunteers working with Special Collections; policies; techniques, and methods involved in preserving all materials housed in Special Collections.

Definition of Conservation

Conservation: is taken as direct intervention to prevent/make good damage to materials.

Definition of Archival Quality Materials

Any cellulose-based material (paper or board, etc) which is free from lignin and ground or chemical wood pulp and containing a neutral and stable size (gelatine, carboxymethyl cellulose, or Aquapel tm) and that has been buffered with an alkaline reserve to a pH of 7 or above, expressly for the purpose of producing a more durable product for the preservation of information or original materials. Adhesives, staples, stitching, and fittings associated with this cellulose material should also be stable, and not have any degrading effect on the materials they come into contact with.

5. Access

In keeping with the UCL Library Services Strategy 2011-14, it is recognised that the use of Special Collections is an important function of the prime purpose of the UCL Library Services as a whole. All Special Collections materials will be made available for research, for group activities and/or seminars which include the use of Special Collections materials, reprography, including other forms of surrogacy, and exhibition whilst ensuring that risk to any of these items is minimised. (For the exhibition of Special Collections, see 14 below.)

6. Risk Assessment

UCL Library Services acknowledges its responsibilities to guard against any risks to any of its Special Collections and take appropriate action accordingly.

These risks can be classified as follows:

  1. Natural routine risks: relative humidity, temperature, light, pollution, pest infestation
  2. Natural extreme risks: fire, flood, earthquake, contamination
  3. Man-made routine risks: handling, wear and tear
  4. Man-made extreme risks: theft, vandalism, war, civil unrest

The Preservation Librarian, members of UCL Special Collections staff and other staff responsible for the safekeeping of Special Collections, both on- and offsite, routinely carry out risk assessments to guard against the risks listed above. These assessments also take into account the local context of the buildings in which Special Collections are stored and used, including all potential risk areas such as manhole covers, overhead water piping (including any fire suppressant systems) etc.

7. Security Statement

Security measures for the prevention of theft and vandalism to all Special Collections are of the highest priority. All storage areas, reading rooms, and other areas set aside for consulting Special Collections, including all office areas where Special Collections are catalogued, together with those areas used for group activities and/or seminars that include the use of Special Collections materials must be secure and supervised at all times by one or more trained and responsible members of staff.

Applications from bona fide readers requesting access to Special Collections materials must be processed in accordance with either the rules laid down in the Access Arrangements for UCL Special Collections or those procedures currently in use at other UCL Library Services sites.

Exit alarms are installed throughout TNA premises and in the Library store on the main UCL campus, and all access points are fitted with strong doors and sound locking systems, protected by intruder alarms and CCTV monitored by TNA and UCL Central Security Control Centre respectively. Comparable robust security measures are installed at the other sites listed in the introduction.

The transit of Special Collections outside of their normal storage areas or reading rooms - for conservation work, reprographics, loan exhibitions, group activities and/or seminars etc is governed by strict procedures and policies including:

  1. All Special Collections materials must be protected and carefully handled at all times
  2. They must be appropriately packed with ownership documentation and receipts prepared for signing and dating
  3. The signed receipts and other documentation must be returned for filing
  4. When transporting Special Collections materials between UCL sites, similar procedures for packing and documentation, including signed receipts (particularly if any Special Collections material is handed over to anyone other than UCL Special Collections staff, ora designated member of staff from one of the 12 sites listed in the introduction above) must be followed
  5. When moving Special Collections materials outside of their normal storage areas to an external destination, they must be escorted by at least two trained members of staff from UCL Special Collections, or other UCL Library Services staff who are responsible for the safe keeping of Special Collections. (see: Reprographics, Surrogates and Photocopying, and Handling & Transportation, 11 and 13 below)

8. Disaster Preparedness

Designated staff at all sites where Special Collections material belonging to UCL Library Services are housed are responsible for ensuring that contingency plans and procedures are in place to prevent, react to and recover Special Collections materials from emergency situations that may have an adverse effect.

Details of Disaster Preparedness are found in the 'Disaster File' housed in UCL Special Collections' office, as well as at all other UCL Library Services sites where Special Collections materials are housed.

9. Premises and Storage

The long-term preservation of all Special Collections will be ensured through the use of appropriate premises and storage facilities. The environmental conditions in key storage areas for UCL Special Collections both at TNA and in the Library's central campus store are controlled by air conditioning, with computerised monitoring of relative humidity and temperature levels recorded on dataloggers and downloaded on a regular basis, so that hardcopy proper records may be kept. To ensure the smooth running of these environmental controls, all filters connected to the air conditioning units are changed regularly (every six weeks for bag filters and annually for carbon filters). Controls in the air conditioning plant are directly linked to UCL Estates Engineering Maintenance and Infrastructure so that remedial action can be taken immediately in case of malfunction or breakdown of the air-conditioning equipment.

All environmental conditions, where UCL Special Collections material is housed, follow the recommendations of PD5454:2012 with a constant relative humidity (R/H) of 55% +/-5% and a temperature of 16 degrees Celsius +/- 1 degree (all violent fluctuations in R/H and temperature are avoided wherever possible). UCL Library Services resolves to ensure that appropriate premises, storage (including shelving as recommended by PD5454:2012) and environmental controls are in place for the safekeeping of all its Special Collections.

UCL Library Services will also ensure that all localised housing, boxing and other forms of protection used to prolong the longevity of its Special Collections are manufactured from materials of the highest 'archival quality' (see: Definitions, 4 above).

10. Needs Assessment

Statistically valid condition surveys are carried out on a regular basis for all of UCL Special Collections. These surveys allow for assessment of the general physical condition of these collections and provide the basis for realistic preservation/conservation planning, including cost projections.

11. Reprographics, Surrogates and Photocopying

UCL Special Collections runs an active programme of reprographics and other forms of surrogate copying; using microforms, digitisation, photography, and photocopying. This programme is recognised as an important part of the library strategy to preserve its Special Collections, and to disseminate and promote the information they contain more widely to users at UCL and beyond. For fragile and vulnerable material, readers are encouraged to consult surrogate copies unless they have a valid reason for seeing the original.

The programme of reprographics is undertaken in accordance with UCL Library Services policies governing copyright and is generated by the following criteria:

  1. To fulfil the objectives of UCL Library Services
  2. To promote the use of Special Collections to a wider audience.
  3. The significance and value of the material
  4. The amount and nature of usage
  5. The physical condition of the material
  6. The need to exhibit Special Collections materials in areas which do not conform to UCL Library Services 'Terms and Conditions for the Loan of Manuscripts, Rare Books or Archives for Exhibition', and/or UCL Library Services 'Exhibitions Policy for Special Collections & other Rare and Valuable objects'. (See: Exhibitions and Loans for Exhibitions, 14 below)

UCL Library Services recognises that the processes listed above pose a potential risk of damage to its Special Collections materials. Therefore, every precaution is taken to avoid damage or interference with an item's physical integrity and historical authenticity. All Special Collections materials required for any form of surrogacy will to be assessed for their suitability for these processes only by trained UCL Library Services staff and other appropriately trained UCL reprographic professionals and external providers of these services (see Preservation Guidelines for Digitising Special Collections).

Master copies of all digital surrogates taken of Special Collections materials are stored and maintained by UCL Special Collections staff, UCL Library Services Web Development Team, and UCL Media Services. 35mm microfilm master copies are stored and maintained by UCL Special Collections staff.

12. Handling & Transportation

UCL Library Services recognises that appropriate handling of all its Special Collections materials by staff and users is an important means of ensuring minimal loss and damage. To assist in these requirements, the Preservation Librarian will provide appropriate training and advice on handling Special Collections materials to all staff responsible for UCL Special Collections material and all other UCL Library Services staff who have responsibility for the care of Special Collections. Guidelines and procedures for the care and handling of all Special Collections will also be produced for other UCL Library Services staff and readers consulting Special Collections, and other users. Readers using the UCL Special Collections Reading Room at TNA are monitored to ensure that these guidelines and procedures are followed. UCL Library Services plan to ensure that similar procedures are in place for monitoring readers using Special Collections material housed at other UCL Library Services sites.

UCL Library Services recognises that photocopying and other reprographic procedures, including digitisation, are a potential for major damage to Special Collections materials. Therefore, before any of these activities is undertaken the suitability of any Special Collections materials for photocopying and other reprographic procedures must be assessed by trained UCL Library Services staff and other appropriately-trained UCL reprographic professionals and external providers of these services (see: Reprographics, Surrogates and Photocopying, 11 above).

Procedures for the transit of Special Collections have been developed to ensure that the movement of any Special Collections materials outside their normal storage areas - for conservation work, reformatting, loan exhibitions etc - are well protected, secure and carefully handled, with appropriate documentation and receipts signed and dated accordingly. When transporting Special Collections materials between UCL sites see: Security Statement, 7 above.

13. Training

UCL Library Services recognises the need for continuing professional development (CPD) for all staff working with Special Collections in order to maintain the highest level of awareness of developments in preservation practice, materials, and procedures.

14. Exhibitions and Loans for Exhibitions

For Special Collections materials sent on loan and for exhibition: see the UCL Library Services 'Terms and Conditions for the Loan of Manuscripts, Rare Books or Archives for Exhibition', revised 17/5/2007. For exhibitions containing Special Collections mounted in UCL Library Services sites, see: 'Exhibitions Policy for Special Collections & other Rare and Valuable objects', revised 17/5/2007. Also see: Security Statement, 7 above)

15. Collections Preservation and Good Housekeeping

UCL Library Services recognises that ongoing and routine collections maintenance will reduce the likelihood of serious damage to its Special Collections. Collections maintenance procedures include:

  1. Monitoring environmental conditions on an ongoing basis
  2. Maintaining a pest management programme
  3. Maintaining cleanliness in all Special Collections storage areas and other spaces where these collections are consulted

These procedures will be monitored on a regular basis by the Preservation Librarian and other trained staff.

16. Preservation and Conservation Treatments

Preservation treatments are undertaken to prolong the life of all Special Collections materials, and include housing, boxing, cleaning etc. These procedures also include conservation treatments and the creation of surrogates when original and other primary source materials are at risk, damaged or deteriorated (see: Reprographics, Surrogates and Photocopying, 11 above).

All these treatments are undertaken to recommended international standards and all materials used in the preservation and conservation process will be of the highest archival quality as directed by PD5454:2012 standards (see: Definitions and Premises and Storage, 4 and 9 above). UCL Library Services also recognises that preventive preservation is the most effective means of conserving its Special Collections. Preventive preservation techniques and procedures will be put in place before conservation treatment of any individual item. This includes selective cleaning of all dusty and/or mouldy items and housing (including boxing) of all vulnerable material.

17. Selection for conservation

Special Collections materials are selected for conservation according to the following priorities:

  1. To fulfil the objectives of UCL Library Services
  2. To promote the use of Special Collections to a wider audience
  3. The significance and value of the material
  4. The amount and nature of usage
  5. The physical condition of the material
  6. If it is required for display

All conservation treatments will be of minimum intervention, leaving the integrity and originality of the item unchanged. Each item will be individually assessed, by the Preservation Librarian and other trained UCL Special Collections staff, and conservation limited to what is necessary for its long term stability and expected use. A conservation record (including before and after photography) of all treatments undertaken will be maintained by the Preservation Librarian and made available on request. Only those conservators who are accredited under the Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers (PACR) scheme or who are working towards accreditation with PACR will be engaged to conserve any Special Collections items. For the movement of Special Collections for conservation treatment: see Security Statement, 7 above.

18. Budgeting for Preservation

UCL Library Services allocates a proportion of its annual budget to ensure that this preservation policy can be implemented. This budget is maintained by the Preservation Librarian and reviewed annually. Additionally, external funding and sponsorship will be sought to support UCL Library Services' efforts to preserve and conserve its Special Collections materials.

19. Preservation Research

UCL Library Services actively supports scientific and technical research to address problems encountered in the preservation of all its Special Collections.

20. Monitoring and Review of Policy

This Policy will be communicated to all relevant staff as appropriate. It will be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it addresses current developments in the preservation and conservation of Special Collections throughout UCL and to reflect overall national standards and strategic planning changes.

February 2014