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Collection Preservation Policy

Collection Preservation Policy

Special Collections & Archives policies supplement Queen’s University Library Resource Development & Management Policy.  This document is complemented by the following SCA documents:

Collection Development Policy

Exhibition Loan Policy

Disaster Plan

Reading Room Rules and Guidance


Preservation “includes all the managerial and financial considerations including storage and accommodation provisions, staffing levels, policies, techniques and methods involved in preserving library and archive materials and the information contained in them”1

Governing Body

Queen’s University Belfast


Special Collections & Archives (SCA) is responsible for management, collection development and preservation of the Library’s manuscript, map, rare print and digital collections, including modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The archive of Queen’s College Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast is an important and substantial part of our unique holdings too. The materials (books, pamphlets, manuscripts, correspondence, music, photographs, maps, records, plans and digital material) held in Special Collections are considered to be of lasting research value and include examples of the earliest printed works (incunabula), and books and pamphlets published between the 16th and early 19th centuries, as such they are intrinsic to local, national and international cultural heritage. In order to preserve the material for future readers these collections are housed in a secure and environmentally controlled setting, a proactive focus on appropriate handling and ethical management along with recourse to external expertise as required are important contributing factors to our mission.


SCA was established as a distinct unit in the University Library in 1929. In 1984 a purpose built restricted access store with air conditioning was built in the Main Library to house Special Collections materials, the University Archive was stored separately. A dedicated reading room and office was established nearby for patrons to consult SCA materials. In 2009 a new library building was opened which included a bespoke SCA Store and reading room in compliance with BS5454:2000 guidelines. The University Archive also moved to the new McClay Library, it is co-located with additional restricted access storage space on a separate floor. The Special Collections service at Queen’s provides access to the Library's rare and early printed bookmap, and manuscript collections, as well as to more modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The collections are accessible to staff and students at Queen’s as well as external researchers and the general public. The rare and unique collections in SCA holdings support the research and teaching mission of the Queen’s University and scholarship internationally. The collections are interdisciplinary in content with particular strengths in Irish Studies, literature, history and politics, including nineteenth and early twentieth century China.

SCA has moved from supporting and developing a traditional print based collection to bridge and embrace the digital environment through collection of relevant born digital materials, creation of digital surrogates, development of new e-resources (JSTOR Ireland Collection) and a range of resource discovery tools to support research, teaching and learning (RASCAL, finding aids, databases) at Queen's, internationally and outside the academy. We are in the process of adopting a new PRESERVICA preservation platform which acts as a repository, holding and preserving archival backups of all our digitised collections and metadata to keep our digital records useable and accessible for the long term. 

Roles & Responsibilities

All staff, Student Assistants and Interns working in Special Collections & Archives department are responsible for implementing the preservation policy in line with their respective roles and responsibilities.

The Head of Special Collections and Archives is responsible for co-ordinating the preservation activities of the department and advocating for appropriate conditions in which to house, manage and document Special Collections & Archives holdings.

SCA aims to maintain awareness of and compliance with current standards and recommendations for storage and exhibition (PD 5454:2012 Guide for the storage and exhibition of archival materials) and relevant legislation (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), external professional advice is sought where appropriate. A proactive approach to preservation is adopted for the collections managed by SCA staff which is underpinned by training and guidelines to promote good practice in handling (all staff and patrons), storage and access.

Preservation Strategy:

Special Collections & Archives aims to implement the preservation strategy through:

  • Use of archival standard storage (acid-free boxes, folders, envelopes and paper, mylar, etc )
  • Good working practices to protect our valuable rare and unique collections
  • Digitisation of heavily used materials where possible
  • Ongoing assessment to ensure timely repairs and conservation work
  • Open access to good quality bibliographic records for print holdings2 , detailed documentation for manuscript and archive collections3 , and detailed metadata for digitised resources [3]
  • Managed access
  • Continued, active preservation of digital collections in a secure repository

Activities supporting preservation of Special Collections & Archives at Queen’s University Belfast

Staff Training & Development

Queen’s operates a robust staff training and development programme which is monitored through the annual appraisal process. All SCA staff are required to participate in the broader University programme which is supplemented by relevant in-house and occasional external training opportunities specific to work in archives and special collections and appropriate to their respective roles in the team. As this is a working collection, materials are subject to regular wear and tear through handling and use, this makes them vulnerable. Staff working at SCA are crucial to the implementation of the Preservation strategy due to their interaction with Library colleagues in other departments (Bibliographic Services, Subject Support and Borrower Services), patrons, invigilation of the reading room, curation and processing of collection materials.


A dedicated (40 seat) air conditioned reading room fitted with CCTV and invigilated by SCA staff is available for consulting SCA holdings. Opening times and details for Visitor access are available online 

A guide to using Special Collections & Archives which details reading room regulations and handling guidelines is also available

The SCA seminar room may be reserved for group work or small classes consulting our holdings. Access to the seminar room is managed through the SCA service desk. The Seminar room is equipped with a large screen, PC, networked microfilm reader and a large table for display of outsize materials or group work.

All SCA facilities are wifi enabled.

Digital or hard copy surrogates may be supplied in place of very fragile originals.

Special Collections & Archives makes listings, finding aids and catalogues, available onsite and online through SCA webpages5, RASCAL, Archives Hub, Archive Portal Europe (APE), Archive Grid and the National Register of Archives as appropriate.

Collection level descriptions are documented on RASCAL and on the Archives Hub.

More detailed information on SCA commitment to open access on collections information is documented in the Special Collections & Archives Collections Information Policy.

Reading Room Regulations 


Special Collections is open to the academic and student community at Queen’s as well as external researchers.  An appointment is not necessary to use the Henry/Hibernica collection.  Advance notice is necessary if manuscript, archive or early printed materials are to be consulted.  Visitors are required to register online ( and produce photographic ID and evidence of address upon arrival at Special Collections.

The SCA service desk is staffed during SCA opening hours. There are 5 cameras which monitor all zones in the reading room, including doors. The CCTV also monitors the door giving access to the Special Collections store and the emergency escape door from the store through the dedicated Reading Room.  CCTV is monitored by SCA service desk staff and University Security Centre. SCA staff and or Special Collections (student) Assistants are responsible for fetching requested items and re-shelving to ensure the service desk is continually staffed during opening hours. Access to the reading room is by designated smart cards only. Only SCA staff cards facilitate access to SCA reading room and stores. Doors to the SCA reading room and stores (floor 1 and 2) are alarmed, the system is managed centrally by the University Security service. All maintenance work carried out in SCA areas is supervised.


SCA materials are digitised to meet the needs of SCA and in line with the Digitisation Policy. We work closely with external vendors to ensure safe digitisation of our materials to agreed specifications and timescales.


Reproduction of Special Collections & Archives materials is subject to copyright law (UK Copyright Patents and Designs Act 1988). It is also undertaken at the discretion of Special Collections staff depending on the condition of materials. At the Library’s discretion, patrons may use digital cameras. All devices must be hand-held and set to 'silent'. Flash photography is not permitted. Copying of manuscript materials is only permitted when a watermarked acetate is placed on top of the materials being copied.

Further information on reproduction, permissions and charging is available online 


All SCA materials are housed in secure, restricted access storage areas in the McClay Library. The SCA Store 1 (floor 1) has been designed in accordance with the relevant CIBSE guidelines and, where applicable, BS 5454:2000.  There is a gas suppression system installed within the storage space complete with a double-knock fire detection system, and there is no sanitary or heating pipework passing through the space. There is 3,730m of storage space in this secure environmentally controlled area which is monitored centrally by the Estates directorate. Additional restricted access and secure storage is provided for the University Archive on floor 2 this area is environmentally stable but without air conditioning. Both Stores (1 & 2) are monitored by SCA staff through use of data loggers to ensure temperature and relative humidity are maintained at acceptable levels and remain stable. A selection of modern print collections are housed in Store 2 which also includes lighting movement detectors. SCA staff are responsible for reporting building related issues to Library Office and Estates.

Cleaning of Stores is arranged as required and a museumvac is located for convenience at SCA. Alarms and lighting are maintained by Estates directorate.

Newly donated manuscript material and rare books are first stored in the Special Collections Workroom where they are checked for mould or any other pests before they are placed in the Store.

Digital Preservation

Digital resources created and supported by SCA are maintained and backed-up in accordance with University protocols and supported by IT Systems and Services. Long term storage of electronic data including scheduled weekly back-up of physical server for digital surrogates, virtualised servers for CALM catalogue, OMEKA and RASCAL databases are managed by IT Systems and Services. JSTOR Ireland Collection is backed-up and securely managed by ITHAKA6. SCA print journals supporting the JSTOR Ireland Collection are preserved in SCA Store 1. Digital resources created and supported by SCA are curated, managed, and maintained in a digital preservation system, in accordance with the Digital Preservation Policy.


SCA has an ongoing programme of re-packing materials using appropriate archival storage solutions. External expertise and advice is sought as required for conservation of specific items. All journal stock is hardbound, heavily requested modern print editions are rebound or replaced if necessary; older print materials have sympathetic rebinding or have customised boxes prepared by an external specialist binding firm. Materials are prioritised for action if in high demand, of particular historical significance or by extent of disrepair.


The physical condition and preservation needs of materials will be prioritised when considering items for exhibitions. Location, including environmental conditions, security and display facilities are significant factors influencing decisions for exhibitions. Appropriate supports must be used for displaying SCA materials.

Exhibition Loan

SCA materials may be considered for loan for exhibition purposes in compliance with the Exhibition Loan Policy. Exhibition loans must be approved by the Head of Special Collections & Archives and the Assistant Director with responsibility for Library Services. Terms and conditions for Exhibition Loan must be guaranteed, a formal Exhibition Loan Request form and Facilities Report must be completed.   


SCA Collection Development Policy governs acquisitions. Donations are considered in line with the Library’s Donations Policy7.

Disaster Preparedness

Special Collections & Archives maintains a Disaster Plan which operates in association with the University’s Disaster and Major Incident Plan and the Library’s own Business Continuity Plan. Designated SCA staff are responsible for facilitating roll out of contingency plans and procedures in the event of a disaster impacting SCA holdings. Library Services has an annual subscription to Harwell Document Restoration Services which provides a 24 hour emergency response. Agreements are in place with local commercial deep freeze companies in the event of a disaster at SCA necessitating deep freeze facilities as part of salvage operations.


Special Collections & Archives will seek to avoid competition and conflict with other local libraries and archives.

When advising potential depositors SCA will draw attention to the existence of other repositories with similar or overlapping interests, to ensure that material is offered to the most appropriate institution.


A portion of SCA annual operating budget is allocated to support implementation of the Preservation Policy for collections in SCA holdings. This enables purchase of appropriate storage materials, specialist binding and digitisation to ensure access to all materials in our holdings for research, teaching and learning purposes. The budget is managed by the Head of Special Collections & Archives and is reviewed annually with the Assistant Director for Library Services. SCA collaborates with Development and Alumni relations Office (DARO) and Schools to source occasional additional funding through the collaborative development of grant proposals and identification of opportunities for external sponsorship to support SCA activities to advance scholarship whilst preserving Special Collections & Archives’ materials for current teaching and future researchers at Queen’s and internationally.

Special Collections & Archives will evaluate and select for destruction those documents deemed not to be worthy of permanent preservation in line with deed of gift or deposit agreements.

This Policy will be reviewed to ensure it is complies with national standards and reflects the Library’s strategic goals. It will be circulated to all relevant staff.

The Preservation Policy will be reviewed at intervals of not more than three years.

Date of issue current version: August 2023

Date of review: August 2026

Associated records and documentation



  1. National Preservation Office (n.d.)
  2. Library Catalogue 
  3. Manuscript Listings and University Archive 
  4. Digital Special Collections & Archives 
  5. Special Collection and Archives 
  6. JSTOR has "established redundant data centers each housing a complete copy of the JSTOR Digital Library. Digital files for the entire archive are also preserved using the approach and infrastructure developed by Portico." (accessed 20160921)