Sunday, September 12, 2010

Preservation and (business) management

I recently had the opportunity to meet and talk with Barclay Ogden, Head of the Preservation Department at the University of California Berkeley Library. His activities in the field of preservation have included the development of the CALIPR collection needs assessment tool, a free piece of web-based preservation survey software hosted on UC Berkeley's servers (it's availability and ease of use would make it suitable for implementation in almost any collection around the world). Barclay has been in the preservation business for forty years and, following the birth of random sampling in the 1970s to quantify preservation problems and needs assessment in the 1990s based on collection use and value principles, he has turned his attention to risk management.

His approach to risk management is a novel one in the field, as he has managed to collaborate with the second largest risk management consultancy in the US after approaching the University of California Office of Risk Management with his preservation concerns. This has resulted in positive attention from the UC administration, and that translates to funding for the UC Berkeley Library. In this economic climate, it's a great working model, but for anyone who's worked in a library or cultural institution, they will probably have encountered some cultural resistance to business models (and for anyone who's studied business, they will know that culture eats strategy, for lunch). Barclay has circumvented cultural opposition and the problems of emotive, experiential modes of risk management that can often be encountered in the cultural heritage community, going straight to the experts in rational, analytical risk management - arguably the group that can really influence outcomes at the UC Berkeley Library.

I can understand the resistance to business models. One of the problems with accreditation/certification in conservation, for example, and standards in general, is that cultural heritage professionals could potentially lose their individual operational flexibility in a sector where outcomes are often subjective and difficult to quantify. Under the current circumstances, though, business management models represent an area that requires serious and considered engagement in order to achieve a mutual understanding; I don't believe that learning this language has to result in losing one's culture. Business models, language and communication, and the adoption of standards, have the potential to give the cultural heritage sector a real leg to stand on.

No comments:

Post a Comment