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A man in a cap and glasses stands behind of a large desk with several items set in front of him.
Alan Haley. Photo: Courtesy Alan Haley.

Alan Haley, Preservation Specialist

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Alan Haley is a preservation specialist in the Conservation Division.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in New Hampshire and attended the University of New Hampshire for my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Early on, I thought I was destined to be a math major, like my mom. It took me only one semester of college calculus, though, to sour on the idea. I declared a double major in Spanish and Greek because I liked the interactive dynamic of foreign-language classes. I went on to earn an M.A. in Spanish literature and linguistics, then taught Spanish-language classes at the university for several years.

Ready to try something different, I eventually earned a master craftsman’s certification in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School in Boston. The school encourages students in their second year to seek further training. I applied for a rare book conservation internship at the Library and was accepted in September 1993. I’ve been here ever since.

Describe your work at the Library.

My responsibilities at the Library have morphed over time, but I have been de facto coordinator of the digitization preparation workflow in the Conservation Division for some years now. An amazing team of conservators prepares special collections materials to go under the camera, providing access to their content for Library patrons and the world at large. It is an unbelievable privilege to be part of this program.

What are some of your standout projects?

Working with our incomparable collections so many years makes it hard to choose a standout conservation treatment, and working alongside our conservators who excel in their different specialties is humbling.

Treating the original print transcript of the 1841 Amistad trial was memorable, as was treating the Boulder Dam photo album, which documents the dam’s construction in the 1930s. Last October, I worked on a Chinese scroll from around 600 A.D., the oldest artifact I have ever treated.

Every day brings a new surprise. Perhaps most impactful for me have been the preservation outreach assignments I have undertaken at the Library’s behest to advise on preservation of cultural heritage materials.

The assignments are always challenging, but the reception we experience representing the Library can differ greatly depending on where in the world we are asked to go and why we are there. Usually, the reception is warm (El Salvador and Moldova have my heart always). But sometimes the environment is more tense — Cairo during the Tahrir Square protests in 2013 and Baghdad in 2003 were daunting.

It isn’t about how your host institutions receive you; it is more about how they are functioning under duress and how I as an outsider should navigate those waters. I try to bring focus to what we have in common, a concern for the preservation of cultural heritage that may be under threat.

Currently, I am delighted to be assisting the New York City-based W.E.B. Du Bois Museum Foundation to implement a preservation plan for Du Bois’ personal library in Ghana, which suffers from climate-caused deterioration. We hope to make training Ghanaian students in collections care a part of our preservation outreach.

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Comments (3)

  1. So interesting to read your comments about the ‘climate’ in which you have to be sensitive to how your partners are functioning (under duress and such)…you are as an important ambassador as those with the title. Thank you for your preservation work…priceless contribution to culture and society.

  2. I have a will of my great grandfathers that is starting to deteriate, it is well over a hundred years old but is in fairly to good condition. How should I preserve it and who in Arkansas would I contact for preservation of this document? I thought about contacting the Church of Latter Day Saints for preservation but have a problem contacting them at their location in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Any help with this would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi there,

      We can’t recommend any company or services, but you can try our Ask a Librarian service for specialized help in your region. Here’s the link to send your question to a preservation specialist. If they don’t have the name of a particular business, they may be able to refer you to a national association, trade group, etc:

      Good luck,

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