National Humanities Alliance

Written Statement on the FY-1996 Appropriation for the National Endowment for the Humanities

Submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies (Committee on Appropriations), by the Association of Research Libraries, the Commission on Preservation and Access, and the National Humanities Alliance

March 31, 1995

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

The National Humanities Alliance, Association of Research Libraries, and Commission on Preservation and Access appreciate the opportunity to provide this written testimony on the preservation programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities for the House FY-96 appropriations record.  This testimony was prepared by Patricia Battin, the founder and first president of the Commission until her retirement June 30, 1994.  Ms.  Battin was one of the initial proponents of the 20-year Brittle Books program managed by NEH's Division of Preservation and Access.

In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a Fiscal Year 1989 appropriation bill increasing the budget of the NEH Office of Preservation to $12.5 million.  This action effectively created the nationwide preservation program that uses modest funds to stimulate cooperation and resources to intelligently preserve and provide access to our nation's endangered intellectual heritage.  During the past seven years, the NEH-managed program has become a model for nations around the world.

In an extraordinary partnership with libraries, archives, private foundations, publishers and international agencies, NEH has conceived and now coordinates an unprecedented battle against the crumbling acidic paper that threatens our recorded knowledge stored in libraries and archives.  The track record of the Endowment's preservation efforts is impressive.  As one example, after the first seven years of the 20-year Brittle Books program, accomplishments are right on target with our 1988 projections: Some 660,000 embrittled volumes are preserved or undergoing preservation.  With a 33 percent cost-sharing requirement, 70 institutions are participating, from small archives and colleges to large research consortiums.

Preservation programs are not entitlement programs.  All institutions applying for grants must go through a rigorous review process and provide one-third of the project's funding.  Since the establishment of the Office of Preservation (now the Division of Preservation and Access) in 1986, the Endowment reports that its projects have leveraged over $6.4 million in gifts.  Moreover, in FY1994, grants generated a level of cost-sharing totaling $19.4 million, equaling 84 percent of the Endowment's investment of federal funds.

The design of the Endowment's coordinated series of programs recognizes the fact that our nation's libraries and archives are not distributed evenly throughout the 50 states, ruling out the efficacy of a block-grant approach.  The Division of Preservation and Access, for example, provides grants for statewide planning that enable each state to design a preservation program most suitable for its specific circumstances within the context of the national effort.  In 1994, NEH was helping support preservation projects within 156 institutions and humanities organizations in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Brittle Books

Only federal stimulus could make possible such a cooperative, sustained, and massive salvation effort as the Brittle Books program.  Prior to 1988, the library and archival profession had repeatedly sounded the alarm, but to little avail.  Millions of books were crumbling and turning to dust on shelves in libraries and archives.  Scientific research had determined the cause of the decay: Acidic-based paper had been introduced in the mid-nineteenth century to respond to the demand for books and journals fueled by the spread of literacy and the growth of American scholarship.  So-called "slow fires" triggered by the acids in the paper were breaking down the cellulose fibers that give paper its structural strength.

Surveys confirmed that nearly 80 million books in North American libraries were threatened with such destruction.  Of that number, 12 million were unique titles requiring high priority preservation.  Not only were books endangered, but also maps, music scores, archival records, and other paper-based materials.  By 1987 it had become unhappily evident that the individual efforts of the Library of Congress and large research libraries to preserve their collections were simply inadequate to the challenge.

Since our intellectual heritage belongs to all of us, it seemed eminently reasonable that the national interest required a federal response with judiciously determined priorities, coordinated leadership, and shared expenditures of public and private funds.  The bold vision of Congress in October 1988 in recognizing the appropriate role of the federal government to help individual institutions preserve distinctive collections for the benefit of all citizens is amply documented by the NEH's record of achievement since that time.

The Brittle Books program is an outstanding example of the use of federal resources to support the national interest in which the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.  The program was carefully crafted not only to preserve the holdings in our nation's libraries but to make them accessible to all citizens in ways that were not possible before.

The massive preservation microfilming program carries a set of rigorous conditions: 1) filming that meets stringent technical standards; 2) a master negative, a print master, and a service copy for the institution; 3) entering the record into a national bibliographic database; 4) a commitment to provide interlibrary loan or film copies at cost to any requester; and 5) permanent storage in environmental conditions meeting nationally accepted standards.  It also stretches preservation dollars by requiring that institutions concentrate on materials of the highest priority and that they avoid duplicating previous preservation efforts.


Newspapers represent the most widely used set of materials for learning about our history, both for scholarly studies and for individual citizens wishing to understand their own genealogical, ethnic, and local histories.  Like books, newspapers are printed on self-destructing paper.  Because newspaper titles may be scattered throughout a state, cost-effective preservation is even more difficult than for books.  Again, the challenge has required national stimulus and coordination by NEH.  Some states did preserve newspaper holdings prior to 1982, but many could not afford a systematic approach, and none provided comprehensive bibliographic access to their collections.  Since it was launched in 1982, the NEH U.S.  Newspaper Program has involved all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  Half of these states have completed their projects.  When current projects conclude, 54 million pages of disintegrating newsprint will have been microfilmed, and bibliographic records for 224,000 newspaper titles will be accessible to the general public.  Under this program, microfilm copies of newspaper are available to anyone anywhere in the country through interlibrary loan.  And each state project produces a newspaper bibliography to ensure full access to all citizens.

Education and Research

Education remains a high priority need for librarians and archivists as they manage an increasing array of preservation activities.  In 1994, an NEH grant to the University of Texas at Austin helped support the only graduate training program in library and archival administration and conservation that focuses on preservation of library and archival materials.  Another grant supported staff training in book repair techniques to help 40 libraries preserve continuing access to circulating collections.  Among grant recipients were the Universities of Washington and Utah and the University of California at Berkeley.  An estimated 150 supervisory staff of libraries will receive training in management of preservation microfilming projects, thanks to another 1994 grant to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover, MA.  And an award to the Southeastern Library Network will provide education and training services in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

As we continue with established methods of preserving and providing access to materials, the preservation community also is investigating how to make the best use of digital technologies for preserving and providing access to humanities materials.  Cornell and Yale Universities have received NEH grants to help establish national guidelines for the interchange of microfilmed and digitized materials within a preservation environment.  The Endowment's support for such activities is crucial at a time when no single institution has enough resources to conduct research and development projects.

We must ensure that emerging technologies are used to provide enhanced access to the humanities to an even broader population of citizens.  We also are concerned that humanities materials created with new technologies can be safely preserved for long-term reference.  Both of these goals -- enhanced access and preservation of digital formats -- require new efforts.  We welcome a proposed special initiative of NEH --Technology and the Humanities -- to be implemented in 1996.  Building on its past research, NEH would support projects that (1) apply electronic technologies to teaching the humanities at all levels of the educational system, (2) digitize texts, documents, images, and sound records, to constitute a digital library of humanities resources, and (3) expand public access to the humanities through technology and telecommunications.  These activities are absolutely essential to this nation's education, preservation, and research efforts.

International Influence

In 1988, we were primarily concerned with saving the contents of American libraries.  We didn't foresee the remarkable impact of the Congressional initiative on the international scene.  The example of NEH leadership over the past seven years has resonated beyond our national boundaries and stimulated the governments of other nations -- large and small, developed and emerging -- to take similar actions.  The wisdom of that vision has been recognized again and again as other governments have used the American experience as a model in organizing their own preservation programs.  As a consequence, the international community is sharing with us the enormous effort to save and make accessible the fragile memory of the world.  This coordinated international effort -- patterned after the NEH program -- provides our schools and libraries with needed intellectual resources from around the world with minimum cost and redundancy.

While developing its "Memory of the World" program, UNESCO has built upon the Endowment's preservation experience.  UNESCO has contracted with IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) to develop general guidelines for safeguarding the documentary heritage, a "world list" of library collections that have suffered damage since 1900, and a "world list" of current activities aimed at safeguarding the documentary heritage.  Most recently, the new European Commission on Preservation and Access representing eight countries (with more to come), has issued its statement of aims and objectives that contributes to the preservation goals of the Endowment and pledges to work with the U.S.  in ensuring the preservation of the published and documentary record.

"Slow Fires," the documentary film on preservation funded by NEH was a hit on U.S.  public television when released in 1987.  It has since been televised in Belgium and Portugal and been viewed by administrators of national and regional libraries in China, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, E1 Salvador, Costa Rica and Peru.  It has been translated into Russian, Chinese, French, Portuguese and Spanish.  And it has sparked worldwide preservation activity, funded by others, that is salvaging materials of importance to U.S.  students, teachers, and researchers.

In Conclusion

The Endowment's preservation activities provide Congress with an ongoing success story of public money wisely spent, leveraging resources nationally and internationally.  What was conceived and promised by the Endowment in 1988 is being delivered by the Endowment (together with supporting institutions) in 1995.

Success to date, however, is predicated on a long-term view.  The Brittle Books program, a 20-year effort to save three million volumes, is only 25 percent complete.  The network forged by the Endowment -- institutions that are sharing costs and working cooperatively for the benefit of all -- is poised to deliver the remaining portion of the promised volumes by their due date and to expand their collaborative preservation activities under the able leadership of the NEH.  The 104th Congress has the historic opportunity to continue the legacy so wisely established by its predecessors, so that our children and grandchildren can know and understand their heritage.

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