the National Preservation Office Survey in Special collections

Behind the scenes in Special Collections: –
The NPO Survey


This month, a conservation project is underway within the Special Collections department which aims to recognise the overall standard of our preservation procedures and to identify and prioritise the future needs of the collection as a whole.

The National Preservation Office’s Preservation Assessment Survey for Libraries and Archives is a large data survey which is designed to collate information from a sample of four hundred selected items, and to generate statistically reliable average results for the overall collection.

The first step of this survey was to do a shelf count of the Special Collections book stack on level 12 of the University Library. The entire collection was initially mapped and a route was selected to navigate our way around the book stack in order to count the shelves. In total, it was found that there were 10,682 shelves in the book stack, each of which contain a variety of special collections material.

Following the shelf-count, four hundred items were systematically chosen over the breadth of the collections and flagged with a temporary marking to allow for identification during the survey.

The next stage of the survey was to complete the standardised NPO Questionnaire for each item. The questionnaire itself contains two parts; fifteen standard questions and a short condition assessment. Specialist input is required from the Special Collections staff members who will work together to ensure as much information is documented for each item in part one of the Collection Assessment. In this section, we are asked to identify various things about the particular item in question; such as whether or not the item has been catalogued, if surrogate copies of this item have been created, the degree of its usage and also to note several aspects of its individual storage environment. This section of the survey also helps us to identify the specific value and importance of individual items to both the University and also within a wider context of national heritage.

Part two of the questionnaire, the Condition Assessment, was completed individually for each of the selected survey items by the department’s paper conservator and allows us to identify the artefact’s format more specifically and to address several aspects surrounding its present state of condition; noting the degree of any damage, surface dirt, and overall usability.

The final stage of the survey is to transfer all of the collected information about each of the four hundred items and to input this into a personalised database to be analysed by the Preservation Advisory Centre. A report is then produced which details a number of recommendations based on the results of the survey. This report will be a very useful and reliable means to assess the proportion of items in the collection needing further treatment; helping us to plan and prioritise ongoing conservation and preservation work within the department. By conducting a large scale survey such as this, it is hoped that the general stability and usability of the collection can be calculated and will continue to improve in the long-term; ensuring the future of the many rare, historic and intriguing materials contained within the Special Collections department.

Alex Doak



Categories: Special Collections

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