Preserving California's document heritage: 
a progress report

Long after popular novels, CDs, and DVDs have satisfied readers’ interests and been replaced by the next new titles, historical materials continue to survive to remind us of where we’ve been and to teach our children what they never knew.

The California State Library (CSL) is committed to assisting libraries throughout California preserve historically significant books, documents, photographs, movies, and sound recordings. Since 1998, the CSL has supported the California Preservation Program’s (CPP) in its effort to provide preservation information, training, and emergency assistance to California libraries.

On-going services

The CPP’s primary work is conducting workshops on disaster preparedness and response for libraries. Since 2002, 474 staff representing 328 libraries and cultural institutions has attended 17 workshops throughout the state.  Additionally, the CPP’s website,, offers California-specific disaster assistance information as well as preservation information for libraries without preservation professionals on their team.

The CPP organizes regional conferences on specialized preservation topics. Conferences in the last several years have addressed preservation fundraising, mold and pest control, cost-effective environmental management, and surveying preservation needs, among other topics. CPP’s conferences not only benefit the California library community, but advance the knowledge and skills of California’s growing cadre of preservation authorities.

The CPP offers expert preservation assistance to individual libraries on a cost sharing basis through which the library and the CPP each cover part of the consulting costs. Many of California’s libraries without preservation staff occasionally need preservation expertise to guide long range planning for care of collections, to inform building projects that provide opportunities to improve housing and storage of collections, or to address more urgent preservation problems where important materials are at high risk of loss. The CPP’s preservation experts conduct site visits, surveys of collection needs, and written reports, providing impartial, third party, expertise to support institutional plans and goals.

Special projects

In addition to its ongoing services, the CPP has completed, or has underway, several special projects.

When disasters, particularly those involving water, befall library collections, “first responders” (police and fire) are key to saving as much of the collection as possible. To improve the effectiveness of response, the CPP, working with the California Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), has created the California Alliance for Response so that cultural heritage professionals and first responders can work together to maximize  response effectiveness.  The Alliance has met several times in locations throughout California already, and more Alliance meetings are planned for the future.

Although many of 20th Century’s most historic sights and sounds have been recorded on audio visual media, preserving audio visual treasures has been largely ignored. Finally, in 2007, thirty-two institutions statewide surveyed their audiovisual collections and contributed their data to document preservation needs. The California Preservation Survey of Moving Image and Recorded Sound Collections provides a basis for ongoing funding to preserve audiovisual collections of significance to the history of California.  The next step for the CPP will be to find sources of funding to help preserve the most important historical materials.

Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service

The success of the services provided by the California Preservation Program has drawn national attention and funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to extend California’s preservation services to 13 Western and Pacific states and territories. To respond to this challenge, the Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service (WESTPAS) was created earlier this year. Preservation experts throughout the West and Pacific will serve as trainers and consultants in WESTPAS. In 2007-08, they are leading 40 disaster preparedness and response workshops for 600 library and archives staff in Alaska, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Please see the WESTPAS site for a list of locations and schedules for the workshops as well as an overview.

After eight years of increasing activity and influence, the CPP has become a California success story. However, as long as California libraries remain unprepared to protect their collections from disasters, the CPP will continue to provide training and emergency assistance. Current planning for the CPP’s future includes preservation of audiovisual materials and, very importantly, preservation of digital materials. Much work remains to be done to ensure that California’s historically important collections will survive to teach future Californians.

For further information or assistance, please visit the CPP website at, or send an email to




The California State Library

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