The mission of the Preservation Directorate at the Library of Congress is to assure long-term, uninterrupted access to the intellectual content of the Library's collections, either in original or reformatted form. This mission is accomplished directly through the provision of conservation, binding and repair, reformatting, materials testing, and staff and user education; and indirectly through coordinating and overseeing all Library-wide activities relating to the preservation and physical protection of Library material.
At the Library of Congress, preservation program management poses many challenges. The collections of the Library are vast and various, numbering in excess of 121 million, much of it the iconography of more than two hundred years of our nations' struggles and triumphs. In no other library can one find the contents of President Abraham Lincoln's pockets the night he was assassinated; President Thomas Jefferson's drawing of a macaroni machine; the corporate records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); photographs of migrant workers during the Depression; television episodes of "I Love Lucy"; Pierre L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C.; the Washington Haggadah and the Gutenberg Bible. Our collections too come in a variety of formats including leather, vellum, palm leaves, papyrus, paper, nitrate film, CD-ROM, vinyl discs, and magnetic tape.
The Preservation Directorate has a strong outreach program and provides information about preservation to the Congress, government agencies, other libraries, both national and international, and to the general public. It also provides programs for Library staff and patrons that raise preservation awareness and increase the level of knowledge about the Library's preservation policies and practices. The Directorate also advises on effective environmental monitoring of collection storage areas and is fully involved in the planning for off-site storage facilities at Fort Meade, which opened in 2001 and the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at Culpeper, Virginia due to open in 2006. Like all libraries, the Library of Congress lacks the resources to preserve everything. Like surgeons on a battlefield, preservation and custodial staff must make treatment choices on a triage basis. Some items are already so deteriorated that they are not worth heroic efforts to preserve. Others perish if not treated immediately. And still others can be passed over for awhile because we know that they will survive with a modicum of effort. The task of the preservation professional is to sort them out.