British Standard for conservation and care of library collections revised

BSI, the business standards company, has revised its standard for the conservation and care of library collections.

BS 4971:2017 Conservation and care of archive library collections is applicable to traditional archive and library collections, such as documents, books, maps, drawings, and photographic materials. It also covers care for analogue and digital formats, such as cassettes and CDs.

Much of the UK’s public and private library collections have a high historic and monetary value, rendering the guidance outlined in BS 4971 important in safeguarding collections for future generations. Created with input from the British Library, The National Archives, and the Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA), among other organizations, the standard gives recommendations for managing the long-term conservation of collections, starting with an organizational policy, strategy and planning.

Guidance on creating a conservation policy and a conservation strategy is provided, where procedures for storage, handling and use of collections should be developed. At a minimum, the conservation strategy should involve identifying risks to collections, defining hazards and how to avoid their impact.

One of the most common causes of damage to archive and library collections is an unsuitable storage environment. Getting the storage environment and temperature “just right” is therefore essential, with advice given in the standard. There are obvious risks with damp conditions, which encourage mould, but also with excessively dry conditions, which can make some archives – such as acid-decayed papers – more inflexible. Pest management is also covered.

Lighting can cause damage to collections, with some materials more sensitive than others. BS 4971 includes a table with four columns for users of the standard to ascertain the appropriate light sensitivity of their collection, ranging from no sensitivity to high. Diagrams for shelving, with guidance on spacing and the most appropriate dimensions to construct storage for a collection, is covered in the standard.   

Anne Hayes, Head of Market Development for Governance and Resilience at BSI, said: “The guidance in BS 4971 is comprehensive and covers everything from the appropriate care of an Elizabethan map to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Caring properly for library collections ensures they can be maintained for future generations; indeed, the standard has a dedicated section for the most appropriate environment for reading rooms and exhibitions.

“The UK is home to some of the most prized public and private library collections in the world. BSI brought together experts in the architectural and conservation fields to create a standard which ensures those responsible for the care of library collections have access to best practice guidance on preserving our precious national resources.”

BS 4971 will be of benefit to public libraries, university librarians, museums, curators, booksellers, and private collectors, among others. The following organizations were involved in the development of BS 4971:2017: Archives and Records Association; British Library; Institute of Conservation; Institute of Civil Engineers; National Metal Forming Centre; Queens University Belfast; RIBA; SEMA (Storage Equipment Manufacturers Association); The National Archives.

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