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How do we choose what to preserve?

One of the main responsibilities of Collection Care is to ensure that resources allocated each year to treat the collections are used effectively and efficiently, providing maximum benefit to as much of the collection as possible.

What is priority setting?

The priority setting mechanism is an internal networked database which is, in effect, a bidding system. It was set up in 2004 to centralise and standardise the way in which resources for preserving the Library’s collections were allocated and administered. Each year collection areas submit ‘bids’ for resource to treat items in their areas during the coming financial year. The initial identification of material for bids is made by the curators, who have expert knowledge of their collections and any forthcoming demands on them. Treatment requests may be for conservation, boxing, binding, copying or a combination of these, which may be carried out in-house or externally. All bids are submitted in the same way using the same format regardless of their size and type. Once scrutinised and approved, this mechanism enables collection care resources to be allocated fairly and transparently, and work packages to be clearly identified and monitored.

How does the prioritisation work?

The database is a simple five-page form which asks for a range of information about each bid, including catalogue information and treatment being requested. At its heart is a set of 8 questions, which asks specifically for information relating to access, housing, use, value and condition. The answers to these questions have an underlying score. The questions and scores are based loosely on the methodology used for Preservation Assessment Surveys (PAS) as developed and administered by the Preservation Advisory Centre and enable us to evaluate the overall preservation need of an item rather than focussing on a single aspect, such as condition.  Once all of the bids are submitted, the database adds up the scores of these answers and ranks each bid by priority (a high score equals high priority).

How are the bids processed?

Processing follows a set pattern each year:

1. Bidding

Bidding takes place in early autumn for the following financial year. Collection areas have nominated bidders who submit bids during a six week period. Each bid is assigned a unique identifier based on its collection area and all bids are subject to the same requests for information. The system generates about 200-250 bids each year.

2. Estimating

Once bidding has finished and we know all of the bids and their scores, we will estimate each one to see if we have enough resource – funding, for external treatments, and conservator time for internal treatments. Estimating can take up to three months.

3. Approval

Once the estimates are established, a Preservation Board convenes in early February, consisting of the heads of collection departments and Collection Care. If there is a deficit between the estimated resource requirement of all of the bids (internally and externally) and the resources available, then the board will prioritise the bids to bring the overall requirement back in line with available resources. The board will use the priority score to help it in this task, which might also be informed by prevailing strategy and/or corporate priorities.

4. Work allocation

Once the Preservation Board has agreed the bids, the collection areas are notified and budgets are confirmed. Work is then programmed across the financial year and progress against targets and budgets is managed and monitored by Collection Care.

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