Interview with Jane Hedberg
The Weissman Preservation Center in the Harvard University Librarylocated
on Holyoke Center's eighth flooris a locus for preservation activities
within the Harvard libraries. Headed by Jan Merrill-Oldham,
Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian in the Harvard University Library
and the Harvard College Library, the Weissman Center provides a broad range
of preservation services, working in concert with libraries throughout
Jane Hedberg is a preservation program officer for the Weissman
Preservation Center. Hedberg's charge is to provide outreach services
within the library community. She received her BA from Smith College and
her MS from the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science.
From 1984 until May 2000, Hedberg worked at the Wellesley College Library,
initially as Serials Librarian and most recently as Preservation
What are the most important preservation issues for us to consider?
One of the most important preservation issues for Harvard's libraries is
the proliferation of media types in our collections.
A related challenge is the decreasing length of time before a medium begins
to deteriorate. It used to be that books were published on paper that could
easily last hundreds of years. When a librarian purchased a book, serious
preservation problems were far in the future. Now it's true that newspapers
present preservation problems after a few decades of aging. But for some
digital media, the life span can be as short as five years.
A relatively new challenge is presented by the need to preserve not only
the object itself, but its associated technology. For example, with printed
books we focus on conserving paper and bindings. For electronic books, we
will need to preserve the electronic files, and to ensure compatibility
with the applications needed to search, display, or print them.
How did you become interested in preservation?
I became interested when I was still at library school. Then, in 1984, I
took a job at Wellesley College as the Serials Librarianspecifically
because responsibilities included preservation. The program included only
binding and book repairand that was done in the serials department. Over
the years at Wellesley, we expanded our preservation activities and
developed a separate preservation department. In 1999, we built a new
collections conservation facility.
That's a significant organizational change.
We're talking about the years when preservation programs were developing in
all librarieswhen they were being integrated into many library activities.
It was quite a natural growth.
I suppose that it's natural growth throughout the library world.
Yes. My personal experience is that preservation is like motherhood and
apple pie. Everyone agrees that it's a good thing. We wouldn't have
acquired, cataloged, and housed these collections if we didn't intend to
preserve them. The problem is, how do we go about this in a meaningful way?
Preservation is also very different from one library to the next. It must
be firmly grounded in the mission of the institution. Harvard's mission as
a research institution requires that we preserve much of what we hold for
absolutely as long as possible.
What brought you to Harvard last spring?
When the preservation program officer's job opened up here, it had a number
of attractive attributes. One was working in a library system of this size
and complexity. Another was the focus on teaching and training. I had been
teaching at Simmons and at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, and
I'd also been on the faculty of the Commission on Preservation and Access
Seminar series. I enjoyed all of that greatly, so the teaching aspect of
this job appealed to me.
You're running programs that encourage people to be proactive about
preservation. Is that a major focus for you?
Yes, encouragement is a large part of the job. Helping people to sort out
the possibilities. The message always goes back to the mission of the
library. What is the nature of the collection? How are researchers,
students, and faculty supposed to use it?
Typically, what kinds of support are you asked to provide?
Usually I am asked for information, advice, or assistance. Probably the
most common occurrence is a phone call from someone who's got a problem.
Sometimes I do research, but sometimes I already know the answer.
Real-time problems. "This happened." "That pipe broke this morning."
Yes. You're talking about emergency response. And preparing for emergencies
is always a big part of any preservation operation. Luckilyknock on
woodwe haven't had a disaster since the Preservation Center was
established. I'm hoping it stays that way.
Just in case, we have the library collections emergency team. It consists
of 14 members of the professional staff, from here in the Weissman
Preservation Center and from the Preservation and Imaging Department in the
Harvard College Library. There's a cell phone that we take turns carrying,
so one of the team members is available 24/7. If you have wet library
books, you can call for help anytime. The 10-digit phone number is
What other kinds of real-time problems come to you?
All kinds of things. A library finds a stash of nitrate negativesor
acquires a collection that shows signs of insect damage.
Yes. If I get a call about bugs, I help to determine whether there are live
specimenswhich there usually aren't.
Is entomology a requirement for
It isn't really. But the Weissman Center's collection of reference books
is excellentand most of these problemsas annoying as they may beare
anything but exotic or even unusual. When we need to, we call in
specialists. Where insects are concerned, we employ "integrated pest
management." This is a set of practical methods that come from the
agriculture industry, where they have learned that heavier and heavier use
of insecticide produces bigger and tougher bugs. So, the modern goal is not
to kill the bugs, but to deny them the conditions that they need to
flourish. We want them to leave the library and go somewhere more
Common insects like silverfish need moisture. If we reduce the humidity or
dry up standing water, generally speaking they will disappear. Silverfish
also love corrugated cardboard boxes, where they like to live in the
channels. Sometimes eliminating cardboard is enough to encourage them to
When you meet with library staff memberswho may or may not have a formal
preservation programhow do you advise them?
Whether the library is big or small, I ask for a tour. We talk about the
collectionsand preservation concerns. Harvard librarians are well informed
and very articulate, and they know what their preservation needs are. One
simply has to ask.
Are there any special projects here at Weissman that you'd like people to
There is one, in particular, that I want people to know about. We've
invited Wilbur Faulk, an expert in security and disaster-preparedness from
the Getty Conservation Institute, to make a presentation to library staff.
That will be the morning of April 26. Security
is a very important issue for Harvard libraries, and Mr. Faulk is an
internationally acknowledged expert. He will be giving the same
presentation at ALA this summer, so we are getting a sneak preview.
Another exciting project is a prototype, now in development, for achieving
service continuation following a disaster. This kind of planning is done in
businesses quite often, but it's not been done in a university library
before. The project raises interesting questions. What constitutes the
library, if the building and collections have been damaged? Of course, when
you go through this type of planning, the real emphasis is on prevention.
You identify those things that you can do to prevent a disaster and you
create the backups that would make recovery easier.
What's your most important message for the Library community?
I want people to know that the Harvard University Library's Weissman
Preservation Center is here to help. Call us when you need information.
When can they call you?
The office is open from 8 to 5 weekdays. The phone number is 495-8596.
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