Preservation Assessment

A preservation needs assessment for scores and sheet music is the first step in a music library’s efforts to make the material widely accessible to patrons. The information gathered on the condition of the collections, housing of the collection and estimates of their intellectual and monetary value all need to be weighed against the resources available in each institution to address the needs identified. The great majority of a library’s holdings are of enduring value, therefore they need to be protected against deterioration and damage so that they can be used for as long as possible.

Scores and sheet music materials create a unique challenge for the conservator. Preservation within the music library includes, but is not limited to, basic processing, pamphlet binding, spiral and comb-bound scores and other weak binding structures, paper conservation, in-house repair, and general conservation. Reformatting can include in-house and vendor supplied photocopy duplication as well as microfilming.

At some point in the assessment, the planning process moves into the realm of “action” and it must be decided what is actually possible to undertake. Some initiatives can be undertaken without substantially increasing existing budget lines. Intrinsic value will affect priority for preservation. It will often also determine whether or not it is acceptable to reformat materials or to choose among the appropriate conservation treatments. The material is published in a variety of sizes and formats and demands a unique place in the binding literature.

Examples of the various formats and treatments can be found on this website. The binding of scores, sheet Music, and parts section outlines the variety of options available for the treatment of musical scores as well as material issued as scores with parts. Enclosures remain an important, protective housing for library artifacts. They provide for safe handling of fragile and rare material as well as a range of multi-media material.

A very good online resource for preservation assessment planning can be obtained online from the Northeast Document Conservation Center at

Examples of Preservation Treatment



University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Music Library Preservation

Library Binding Institute

Library Preservation at Harvard University

Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
This website contains the full text of numerous excellent publications about preservation policy, planning, and research.

Conservation OnLine (CoOL)
CoOL, a project of the Preservation Department of the Stanford University Libraries, covers topics related to the conservation and preservation of library and museum collections. CoOL also contains links to various preservation organizations, reports, bibliographies, and mailing lists.

Library of Congress Preservation Directorate
This site presents information about the LC preservation programs and services, as well as general preservation information about collections care, emergency preparedness, preservation standards, research and testing, and preservation education.

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)
This site points to a broad range of topics including preservation funding opportunities, frequently-asked preservation questions, NEDCC publications, and internet resources that include materials of interest to institutions and individuals concerned with the preservation of paper-based collections.


Gertz, Janet, and Susan Blaine. “Preservation of Printed Music: The Columbia

University Libraries Score Condition Survey.” Fontis Artis Musicae 41, no. 3 (July-Sept. 1994): 261–69.

“In 1991, Columbia University began an investigation into the physical state of the scores in its music library and the global needs of the collection in matters of conservation. Randomly determined samples were divided into different categories according to the state of conservation of the volumes themselves (good, deteriorated in part, and immediate treatment necessary) and of their paper (good, somewhat fragile, and fragile). The conclusions have provided the library administrators with solid arguments for allocating a budget for the restoration of the music library.” – Authors’ abstract in RILM.

Knowing the Score: Preserving Collections of Music. Compiled by Mark Roosa and Jane Gottlieb.

MLA technical report, no. 23. Canton, Mass.: Music Library Association; Chicago, Ill. : Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, 1994.

Consists chiefly of papers presented and sponsored by the Music Library Association and ALA’s Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, Preservation of Library Materials Section, held during the 1991 annual conference of the American Library Association in Atlanta, GA. Music librarians of the Juilliard School, Northwestern University, and the Library of Congress are represented.

Honea, Sion M. “Preservation at the Sibley Music Library of the Eastman School

of Music.” Music Library Association -Notes 53, no. 2 (Dec. 1996):381–402.

“Preservation at Sibley Music Library as a consciously organized and directed program activity began in the summer of 1982…This resulted in the rapid introduction of new procedures and techniques that created an in-house operation for physical conservation specifically suited to music materials.”

Shepard, John. “Music Librarianship at the Turn of the Century: Preservation.” Notes 56,

no. 3 (March 2000): 574–80.

Speculates on challenges to preservation of music in the digital environment.

List originally compiled by Sandi-Jo Malmon, assessment.
Last updated: August 26, 2014, at 09:45 AM EDT

Business Office: 8551 Research Way, Suite 180, Middleton, WI 53562 | Phone: 608–836–5825 | FAX: 608–831–8200 | Email: | © 2009 Music Library Association