How much does it cost to preserve research collections at the University
of Florida Libraries?
Assumptions first. 1) Our research collections need refinement to fill
gaps and grow stronger. Our Collection Servies Division plans for collec-
tion development with this in mind. 2) Library materials required to
build collections must be acquired, catalogued, circulated, and preserved
in one form or another. 3) We have a "world-economy." The price of any
book is equal to its sale price + price of cataloging + price of circulation +
price of preservation. In other words, there is no such thing as a gift.
4) Always look a gift horse in the mouth. If the teeth are bad, the horse
may need braces or dentures. It's the braces and dentures (the costs of col-
lection and maintenance) I'd like to discuss.
Traditionally, libraries spend money on acquisition, cataloging, and
circulation. Funds for acquisition come from book budgets, while those for
cataloging and circulation generally come from operation budgets. The
latter are often seen as almost incidental expenses. It's like buying one of
your horses a saddle so you can ride it. What happens, then, when the
back of your horse begins to sag like a book sagging out of its case, and its
teeth get brittle as old ground-wood paper? You tell yourself you can live
without the gift horse. Research libraries can't live without books
though. With books, you try repairing or rebinding and, if this fails, you
photocopy or microfilm them. Only a profit of knowledge is earned, and
that doesn't pay the price of preserving knowledge to be earned.
Here are some figures. An average price for binding is $7. A binding is a
book's first line of defense. The going rate for repair and conservation
work is $14 an hour. Almost every book will require one or more repairs
alone. The price of a simple repair (30 minutes) is $7. So far this is just
labor.. The average repair will use $5-$10 worth of supplies if the work is
done correctly. For book paper, there is also the cost, an average of $10
per book, for a drink from the fountain of youth, i.e., deacidification.
Printed on acid-free paper, a hardbound book might cost the Libraries $12
and a paperback $19 over the course of their early life, or about one quar-
ter to one half the sale price of each volume.
When a book enters later life, and it's dead but essentially still usable
the way an archeologist uses bones we buy it a casket, a clam shell,
or "phase" box. This costs us $18. Unlike our gift horse, our books are like
human life. Some of New York's Yiddish community actually bury their
books, when no longer usable, as though they were the bodies of people.
Books, you see, contain much of what makes us human, i.e., knowledge
and emotion embodied in word. The notion of "phase boxing" is akin to
continued on next page
pairing a book for a next life, holding and protecting it until it can be micro-
filmed or photocopied and find new use in new form.
When, at last, books of continuing value pass over, they are transfigured or,
at least, reformatted. The average book will cost about $60 to preservation
photocopy onto acid free paper and bind in a way that will last. That same
book will also cost $60 should it come back as microfilm instead. But, this isn't
the end. Unlike the ghost of our gift horse, the born again book lives, and
eats, and must be groomed. There are new cataloging costs, continued circula-
tion costs, perhaps the cost of a new microfilm reader, and if the new book is
a photocopy probably repair and reformatting costs too.
Let's plug our figures into some statistics. We'll take statistics from the
1985/86 Physical Condition Survey and our volume holdings from 1985 Asso-
ciation of Research Library statistics. We have roughly 2,250,000
volumes. Costs do not account for new and continued acquisitions. 34% of our
volumes lack or require new "binding." The cost of retrospective binding these
estimated 765,000 volumes is about $5,355,000. 55% presently need some form
of repair. Low cost estimate: $8,662,500, excluding supplies or $14,850,000 in-
cluding supplies. 10% are too brittle for continued use, and need microfilming
as soon as possible. Cost estimate: $1,350,000. An additional 10% are brittle
and will eventually require microfilming or preservation photocopy. Cost es-
timates: $1,350,000. 91% are acidic. Minus the 20% total of brittle books,
71% need deacidification as soon as possible. Cost estimate: $15,975,000. To-
tal lowest estimate at today's prices for preservation of our 1985 collections:
I'll admit the figures make our gift horse look like it's been eating loco-
weed. Preservation Officers aren't mathemagicians! And, remember that
we're talking about "forever." In and before 1985, no one looked the gift horse
in the mouth, nor did we give our books cradle-to-grave medical care. We'll
be paying for these oversights for some time to come. In the world economy
that will be a financial drain on everyone. The up-shot of this review of the
rising costs of book medicaid is that we can keep costs down. First, look the
gift horse in the mouth. Is a brittle book worth buying? Should it be micro-
filmed before being cataloged? Would you be willing to pay $60 for a book
that cost $2.50? Second, treat books kindly and teach others to do likewise.
(More on this next time.) And, finally, if a book needs triage or other medical
treatment, send the Preservation Office a notice. It's as good as a doctor's ap-