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Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division: A Health Care System for NYPL Collections

The Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division is an institution-wide program that cares for the Library's permanent assets regardless of format or location. The Division supports the mission of NYPL by preserving both the artifacts that make up its rich collections and the intellectual record they contain in order to ensure their long-term survival and access for current and future generations.

Preservation can be compared to a health care system because it involves preventive, diagnostic, clinical and critical care services. NYPL's "health care system" includes seven program areas: Collections Care, Conservation Treatment, Field Services, Preservation Reformatting, Audio Preservation, Moving Image Preservation, and the Registrar's Office for collections, exhibitions, and loans. Commercial library binding is a shared library responsibility, as is digital preservation program development. These programs offer a breadth of services that include: environmental monitoring, emergency preparedness and response, collection assessment, integrated pest management, staff and user education, mass deacidification, physical and chemical treatment, repair, stabilization, protective housing, binding, conversion of microfilm to digital images, conservation and digitization of audio and moving image collections, exhibition preparation, collection insurance and loan, as well as movement of special collections from their homes to wherever needed.

As collections age, they are by their nature subject to a natural process of deterioration. Audio, moving image, digital, and other technology-dependent collection materials are especially subject to rapid and continuing obsolescence. As technology-dependent formats become obsolete these collections are given longer life through ongoing reformatting to newer technologies. To meet the preservation needs of the Library's increasingly diverse collections, NYPL is dedicated to expanding its commitment to infrastructure and resources to preserve audio and moving image collections. In this way, the Preservation Division strives to provide the public, whether local or global, with continuing access to these rich and vast collections.

Presently NYPL has the most comprehensive preservation program in scope in the United States. As NYPL's "library of the future" evolves, we are developing a world-class, sustainable, twenty-first century preservation program that will inspire the global cultural community and a new generation of preservation leaders. As one of the largest libraries in the world with internationally significant and unique collections, "our preservation program must be as good as the collections need us to be." In this way, through advanced practice and techniques to preserve these vast and incomparable collections, can NYPL best act as a keeper of public record.


On April 22nd the New York Publ Library Services Center opened in Long Island City—A 146,000 square foot building with 266 conservators and other preservationists. For me it represented the culmination of 25 years of work in Preservation and Conservation. Now we can be assured that a great mass of the written word will not go down the Orwellian “memory hole.”

The Preservation and Conservation of written materials has been one of my passions (writing being the other). Some people say that an individual cannot help in accomplishing a challenging goal but I quote Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." That’s what has happened here.

When first I became interested in Preservation and Conservation, the New York Public Library, of which I am a Trustee, had 33 linear miles of decaying books largely do to the acidic paper on which they were printed. Over the years I began a campaign to switch to cost-comparable, acid-free paper—paper that lasted 300 years instead of deteriorating in 30. It took a long time and a lot of effort, including a signed Declaration from 40 publishers and 2,500 writers that they would only be published on permanent acid-free paper. With a lot of help I was instrumental in securing an increase from the National Endowment for the Humanities of $20 million annually for this purpose.

All of this sounds abstract but there it is—realer than real—this beautiful building with dedicated people working there, each floor pristine, state-of-the-art, and color-keyed—A dream come true. I wanted you to share my joy in this.