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Preservation Matters

ThisPlaceMattersIn honor of National Preservation Month, the library will be hosting a series of blog posts related to preservation. This Saturday, we’ll be hosting tours as part of Doors Open Lowell celebrating not only our 125-year-old building, but also some of the work that we do to preserve art, books, documents, and other materials in our facility. We invite you to join us Saturday between 10 am and 12 pm. Also recommended is a trip to the National Trust for Historic
’s site to participate in their This Place Matters activity in which you can highlight various locations, including the library, that matter to you, show your support for the unique building and places in Lowell through social media.

So, what is preservation?

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Work (AIC) has created their definitions of conservation with the following 3 terms:

Preservation—The protection of cultural property through activities that minimize chemical and physical deterioration and damage and that prevent loss of informational content. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural property.

Conservation—The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.

Restoration—Treatment procedures intended to return cultural property to a known or assumed state, often through the addition of non-original material.

Preservation is basically protecting and preventing damage to any culturally significant object (building, paper, artifact, audiovisual item, etc.) through proper upkeep/housing, mitigating environmental factors, disaster planning and prevention, treating possible issues, as well as replacing or addressing any existing damage.

Preserving items that are important to a city, organization, family, cultural group, etc. is essential to capturing the memories of a time or group, but the challenge is whether or not to preserve it at your institution. Lowell is lucky in that many of the local organizations, including the library, have a variety of collections related to the city’s history, such as the Lowell Historical Society, Center for Lowell History, National Historical Park, cemeteries and churches, and others. All are committed to retaining Lowell’s history and knowledge for the future. Selecting items that meet each entity’s collection policy is essential in making sure that the items are housed properly, used effectively and maintained in the best possible way. For instance, the library’s collection statement for Local History items is focused primarily on Lowell and its past boundaries/relationships with the towns of Chelmsford, Dracut, and Tewksbury and those items that “will contribute to knowledge of the social, civic, religious, economic, and cultural life, both past and present.” It is important that those in charge of specialty items select and house items that are of importance to the institution focusing on that which is important for documenting history or culture. In many cases, those items that do not fall into a collection policy will be forwarded along to another institution that can utilize it more efficiently.

For personal collections, it is important to keep only those items that bring personal value to your family. You don’t have to use them daily, but they should be things that you look at occasionally and personally value.  It’s okay to give items away or sell them if you aren’t going to use them or store them properly. (Never store anything of a particular age/value in attics or basements. It tends to increase damage and degradation.) For some people, they like to know the stories of various items in their collection, perhaps wearing a family jewelry item, using your grandmother’s china, or displaying family pictures, recipes, or beloved quilts and blankets. Others are happy with just an item or two to remind them of a special member of their family. There’s nothing wrong with either choice. If you do keep heirlooms, it is important that you do maintain upkeep of the items and store them properly else you could lose these items due to deterioration, breakage, or other factors.

If you’d like to learn more about preservation, staff created a trifold with something helpful hints for preserving your items. Click on Preservation trifold final to open the item.

Also, the Northeast Document Conservation Center offers a collection of free resources on everything from preservation and conservation to reformatting and storage. For more information, please visit

Next week’s topic will focus on Personal Item preservation and some helpful tips on storage.