The Preservation Handbook Online

Table of Contents

I. Preservation
II. Assessment
III. Collection Assessment
IV. Agents of Deterioration
V. Monitoring collections
VI. Materials
VII. Storage
VIII. Conservation
IX. Disaster Planning
X. Housekeeping
XI. Resources / Suppliers
XII. Preservation Grants

Critical analysis of preservation and conservation websites


This document's purpose is to compare and contrast two websites with similar topics to evaluate strengths and weakness in design. To make this relevant to topics covered in the Online Preservation and Conservation Handbook, these sites were chosen based on content.


Properly designed websites are an efficient, low cost way to transfer information. Comprehensive information transfer traditionally reserved for paper and ink are now executed in light and bytes. The fluid nature of this medium gave rise to the phenomenon hypertextuality. Hypertextuality allows the transfer of complex, faceted, subjects in a concentric fashion. Presentation is no longer linear and allows the author to demonstrate relationships among topics. This has transformed the way we communicate and has many variables that will affect the end translation of our thoughts. To illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of website design I chose two sites that embody both positive and negative web design elements. Comparing preservation and conservation sites was not easy since each site has a different purpose and most sites were well designed. The first site is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works xx the second, The Preservation Department at Indian Universities Bloomington Libraries xxi. Six different design principles are discussed in this commentary: presentation, organization, consistency, navigability, accessibility and content.


Visually both sites have strong index page design and layout elements. The AIC is simple and elegant and provides easy access to all major topics within the site. Color is used to further define individual topics and works as unique buttons to link to content areas. Images are included for embellishment only and do not impact use of the site. Contact information such as organization name, address, phone and fax numbers are provided at the bottom of the page. Content is center justified and absolute in its position minimizing the look of traditional print layouts. When the window is re-sized, the design is not compromised. There are indications of an additive structure within the different topical areas. The slight change in style of the horizontal rule and text color in the middle of the page as seen on the Meetings and Content page might indicate different authors.

The IUB library preservation site uses a template that is more traditional for their index layout. This is something that was probably not by choice but a result of being part of a larger organization dictating the website appearance. Even with a template available the layout, background color, and font are inconsistent within the topic pages. This might indicate an area where each department is allowed to create and format individual content leading to a patchwork quilt. Resizing the window forces the text to wrap changing the presentation from the creators intentions, but leaves content intact. The selected colors are pleasant work well together and pose no readability issues. Links are identified through text decoration. Images included on the site are not rendering properly so the user only sees the placeholder for an image. Citation information is not readily available from the homepage increasing the chance of users referencing material inaccurately.

Design flaws both sites have in common are the use of tables to control the layout, and no prominent indication of the currency of material.


The AIC and the university site follow no identifiable hierarchy such as a topical, alphabetical or numerical. This is not as crucial as other design elements because of the nature of electronic documents, but could make information discovery less intuitive. The AIC site follows naming conventions from the index page into the content areas consistently. This helps the user to determine which area they are visiting. The university site does not consistently follow naming conventions from the index page to the topic page making it harder for the user to determine where they have linked. Example: Preservation Units on the index page becomes Preservation Department on the topic page in the university site. Taxonomy also contributes to this problem. One might expect to find informational units about preservation instead of departmental information.

The AIC site has some elements of organizational consistency within the topical pages. Examples would be the placement of logos and associated graphics to the left of the description and link, and the listing of sub-topics in the Conservation Specialties section where materials and service lead, followed by caring for... in areas that this convention can be applied. They also use chronological arrangement with the most recent items at the top of the page.

The AIC site does not use heading elements to direct the path of the reader and relies on paragraph tags to break the information into sections. Effective use of headings, ordered and unordered lists are seen throughout the university site. The text is easy to follow because of the familiar organization.


The AIC website has both graphic and textual navigation tools in place. The content pages have links returning to home at the top and bottom. The sub-topic pages have the added feature of returning to the originating topic page. Multiple navigation options allow those viewing through assistive technology more instances where they can return to the main page. There is no universal navigation bar included so the user must return to the home page in order to move to a different topic. Pages with lists of links might be misread by assistive technology and need to have non-link printable characters with space around them to prevent this from happening. The university site has images serving as navigation elements that are not rendering properly. Fortunately, they have included text links as well. This button does render on one page in the site and I am not sure which is worse having it or thinking it is broken? There are links located at the bottom of the content pages using the template for layout and background image. These provide access to the university wide navigation bar. The pages that do not use the web-template are without these extra navigation points.

The AIC site and the university site use unclear and sometimes ambiguous language. There is also an absence of orientation information included within both sites decreasing the navigability of those using assistive technology. Example: table tags such as TH, Tfoot, Tbody, have not been used. They have appropriately refrained from initiating pop up windows which can be disorienting and decrease navigability.


Presentation elements are used inline and are not separated from the content. This limits the accessibility of assistive technologies. This also increases the load time and can be a problem for people using 56k dial ups. Tags are not properly closed on either site increasing rendering problems in some browsers. Both sites provide text equivalents for images within their pages enhancing accessibility for people lacking the support necessary to render the images. Both websites have documents that require proprietary software for rendering, limiting accessibility. Tables need to be summarized to increase accessibility.


The sites have unique and overlapping content areas. The university site was designed to add presence to the preservation department within the campus setting. The preservation department staff collaborates with the fine arts department and library science department to teach students about preservation and conservation of library materials. The site serves as an information kiosk of internal documentation and process management resources. This creates taxonomy problems because of institution specific terminology that may mislead outside users not familiar with the internal workings of the university. The University site is comprehensive and expansive. Subjects are explored through hypertextuality creating relationships for the user. The Preservation Manual covers the entire process of environmental control within library and artifactual collections. The Disaster Preparedness area is comprehensive and includes an extensive bibliography. Preservation statistics from the Academic Research Libraries and recent studies are available.

The AIC site is appropriate for conservators and professionals working with culturally significant collections. The resources here cover every aspect of conservation from code of ethics to specialization within the field. The site offers information for funding sources, professional development, professional trade memberships, professional activities, seminars and workshops. There are handbooks and guides for general best practices for preservation of a wide variety of objects.

I found both sites to be useful. The AIC site was far superior in it's design, scope and presentation. The simple layout presented a wide variety of information available in a unified manner. One thing that can enhance this site would be the presence of a universal navigation bar on each page. This would increase user driven navigation to allow access to major topic areas within the site at the same time.

The university site had useful content but lacked consistency in it's design. The site's theme was un-established and led me to wonder of I had left the site or not. Some navigational elements wouldn't render properly and appeared as placeholders assigned to images. To their defense, they also used text markers as alternates to the images to increase accessibility. The provision of documentation regarding internal process management should be located in it's own area. Organizational information shouldn't be integrated with the information resource documents being accessed by the larger audience.

Elements such as presentation, organization, consistency, navigability, accessibility and content should be carefully considered during site design. This will make the information available to the widest audience possible.

XXAmerican Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Accessed November 2002.
XXI The Preservation Department at Indian Universities Bloomington Libraries. Accessed November 2002.