The responsibility to build research collections carries with it the obligation to ensure that these collections are permanently accessible. The Columbia University Libraries is committed to the preservation of its collections. Preservation is the action taken to prevent, stop, or retard deterioration of all library materials in all media; to prevent their theft or loss; where possible to improve their condition; and, as necessary and appropriate, to change their format in order to preserve their intellectual content.
The comprehensive approach to preservation entails choosing the most appropriate method of preservation for every item. This is accomplished through storage of materials in proper conditions, through careful handling and housing, through use of security systems designed to eliminate mutilation and theft, through refreshment and migration of electronic files, and through repair or replacement of damaged materials. Materials of unique aesthetic or historical value should be preserved in their original form. There are many other materials whose value lies primarily, or only, in the information they contain. When repair of such materials becomes impossible or prohibitively expensive, their content may be preserved through reformatting into other media. The indefinite storage of unusable materials within the Libraries cannot be justified.
Columbia, as a research library, selects most materials for permanent value. Some materials, however, may not be a permanent part of the collection because they are of only short-term interest to scholars. Department and distinctive collection librarians and selection officers are responsible for developing and maintaining a collection which meets the needs of their library users. Therefore, preservation decisions for materials in the collections is best determined by these officers in consultation with each other, the Preservation Division, reference staff, and others including the faculty when necessary. Preservation decisions must always be made within the context of overall collection policy, balancing the constraints of cost, historical and aesthetic and scholarly value, and user accessibility.