More Product, Less Process

I was in my Preservation class last week, and we were talking about conservation; we had just visited the Preservation lab in Davis Library, and had talked about how to conserve general library materials.  When we returned to the classroom, we started talking about conservation issues.  We started talking about one bibliographer who was against any conservation measures; basically what he wants is for the book to naturally wear out through the course of its use.  Apparently, any conservation measures prevent him from being able to do his research.

While talking about this person’s views, a member of my class said something to the effect of”Isn’t that the same as More Product, Less Process? Materials should just be used up without any preservation or conservation done on them.”  A friend of mine and I immediately said “No,” but the conservation moved on.

The point of More Product, Less Process is not that materials should never have work done on them if they are in danger of being damaged.  We actually had a good example of the MPLP mindset when we visited the preservation lab earlier that evening.  The library staff used to take all new paperback books that they received and put library binding covers on them.  Library binding covers are those solid color hardbacks that you often see in libraries.  However, the preservation department recently changed their thinking on this.  Instead of automatically binding every paperback book, they now put these paperbacks on the shelves and wait until there are signs that the book is being used before they bind it.  If a book is not being used, it doesn’t need to be bound; its just a waste of money, staff time, and resources.

The same principles come through in archives.  While we know some collections will get a lot of use and therefore process them more intensely, not every collection is like that.  And furthermore, not every part of a collection is going to the get same amount use.  To just blanket process every collection at a predetermined level, whether that level be intensive or light, is foolhardy.  Archivists should be looking at each collection and determining the correct level of processing for each part of that collection.  Things taken into account are the expected amount of use, how much time the staff has, how “important” the collection is, and other things.  But, if after it is processed, it gets more use, we can always go back and reprocess it.  At UNC, the Technical Services and R&I staff work together closely; if the R&I staff finds that a collection needs more processing, the Technical Services staff can go back and reprocess it to suit the use.

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