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Preservation Meets the Web

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The following is a blog post by Alanah Richardson, a Spring 2022 Washington Center intern with the Preservation Directorate at the Library of Congress. She is a graduating Senior at the University of Maryland obtaining a degree in Government and Politics and Rhetoric.

My idea of what preservation means has significantly changed throughout the duration of my time at the Library. Initially, preservation to me, meant solely cataloging artifacts and storing them in no particular way at Library. Having spent time on the Preservation Directorate’s website, I learned that there are so many elements, phases, and features in the Preservation process. For example, one vital piece of information that I learned is the difference between conservation and preservation. After speaking with brilliant staff on all four divisions, I learned that preservation is meant to protect books from aging and further damage and conservation utilizes scientific research, material knowledge, and hand skills to essentially stabilize a book’s condition. This work is vital in maintaining a book’s value and the methods used in both preservation and conservation are elaborate. As the Preservation Directorate’s communications and program intern, my role is to familiarize myself with each division’s webpage and their role in the Library to develop a plan to reorganize and redesign the layout and content of the website.

Alanah and Sonja looking at a poster being framed for exhibit
Alanah received a tour of the conservation labs where she was shown spectacular artifacts and got an inside scoop on paper conservation. Photo: Amelia Parks

As the Library begins to move forward migrating the current website to   a more modern template, the Preservation Directorate wants to be ready for those changes. The Preservation website needs to be restructured so that it is more effective at telling the story of how collections are conserved and preserved, which are both quintessential functions of the Library.

My mentors, Erin Engle and Amelia Parks, tasked me with developing a set of questions that would be used to initiate a conversation about our web redesign project in the form of divisional interviews. Developing relevant questions took some deep thought as the website is extensive in content. It was fascinating and daunting to go through each division’s webpage on the staff and public sites. I learned a lot about instrumentation used by the Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD), projects that the Conservation Division (CD) is proud of, and how the Collections Management Division (CMD) maintains the offsite Ft. Meade storage facility by keeping books safe, dry, and clean. We categorized questions based on staff intranet, public internet, and website content updating and used these as a basis for hour long information gathering sessions with staff from all four Preservation Divisions.

Staff Intranet Questions

The first step in determining the avenue to take in beginning the restructuring of the staff intranet site is to establish who the audience is for the divisions content on the site. The goal of the Divisional interviews is to determine who the audience of the Preservation Directorate’s website is, how to make our content and services easy to find and more accessible to staff, and to consider website layout and design options that would best display the needs of each Division’s staff content.

Divisional staff suggested adding information that they believe necessary to their division’s goals, workflows, and processes. Some of these suggestions included adding chart station hours, alerts for workflows, and information regarding offsite storage. It was determined that information that needs to be regularly updated is chart station hours and locations, info needed for staff to locate collections in the stacks, key contacts, procurement of housing supplies, and wording of division services just to name a few. Staff across divisions agreed that regular content reviews and updates to the Preservation website would make it more engaging and less static.

After digging into the staff website, we moved to questions about the public site, which is much more familiar to staff and myself.

Public Internet Questions

Determining a specific public audience for the Preservation public site was difficult to narrow down because each Division has many functions and a wide range of services that do not always overlap. There are a variety of professional societies who go to PSD’s webpage.

The public internet site has a large audience that comes to the site for a number of reasons. Before my experience as a Preservation intern, the only reason I had visited the site was to use the ‘ask a librarian’ feature for my university courses. Listening to Division Chiefs and staff opened my eyes to the world of what it takes to preserve history’s collections and how to enhance the website so that the public can understand the importance of this work.

I started by looking at adobe analytics e in order to gage audience reception and engagement for specific pages on the site, which was instrumental in my collating responses from the information sessions. Of course, staff aren’t the only people using the Preservation website, we needed input from our audience.  So, we created a survey specifically for our professional society audience. Which can be accessed here

screen shots from incoming results of the website survey
Screenshot showing some of the early results of the Preservation Website Survey.

The survey is meant to probe responders about what information they search for on the website, what content they need readily available, and how easy it is to navigate the site. The survey will close on April 6th and after receiving as many responses as possible, we will be analyzing the results to use in collaboration with the results from the Divisional interviews in our shift to the new website format. The intention is for the format to be streamlined, user friendly, and all around modern.

Before this internship, I had a limited knowledge of preservation and website design. Speaking with Preservation staff outlined for me, the importance of the concept of preservation and why it is vital to have a working, organized, and engaging website to layout preservation services and projects. I appreciated speaking with the talented staff who had many great ideas on to how to enhance the website.

The steps I took in information collection included survey design, interviewing division chiefs, collating data received, analyzing data, and using the information gathered to spearhead agency wide change and improving user experience are transferrable skills in any job. The web redesign won’t come quick but the skills I’ve developed through initiating the process are going to be useful in my future career.

The Preservation Website Survey is open until April 6th, 2022. If you would like to give your input on improving the website you can participate by taking the survey here.

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