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How Healthy are America's Heritage Collections?

Heritage Preservation to conduct 10-year follow-up to the first comprehensive survey of nation's collections

Washington, DC (July 19, 2012)—Heritage Preservation, working in cooperation with Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), will produce a new Heritage Health Index. The original survey, conducted nearly 10 years ago, was the first comprehensive study to assess the condition of U.S. collections. It examined the state of preservation across the entire spectrum of collecting institutions, large and small, from internationally renowned art museums and research libraries to local historical societies and specialized archives. The results were published in the groundbreaking A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections and reported that 4.8 billion artifacts held in public trust were at risk and that 190 million were in need of immediate care.

Heritage Preservation and IMLS have entered into a $338,554 cooperative agreement to complete the study in 2015. The project will receive an additional $100,000 of support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The new Heritage Health Index, HHI II, will use a similar instrument and methodology to the 2004 study to see what changes have taken place in collections care in the U.S. during the last ten years. HHI II will examine the extent and effectiveness of preservation activities and initiatives during that time and will recommend actions to improve the care of collections and ensure that they will be available for public access now and in the future.

Since the Heritage Health Index was first conducted, museums and libraries have significantly increased their holdings in digital material.  HHI II will address this by including questions asking how institutions are caring for digital artifacts. It will also determine how creating digital surrogates may be improving access to paper, photograph, audiovisual, and other collections, while protecting them from damage due to handling.

“IMLS takes a leadership role in caring for collections held in public trust in thousands of libraries, museums, archives and historical societies throughout the U.S.,” said IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth.  “I am delighted that we will once again support the Heritage Health Index.  The findings of this important national survey will help us continue to make wise investments in conservation so that future generations can learn from the past and make new discoveries that will enrich the educational, cultural, and civic life of our nation.”

“Cultural heritage collections contain our history and identity and are the building blocks for research, education, and public programs in the humanities,” said NEH Acting Chairman Carole Watson.  “New knowledge of the conservation needs and achievements of collecting institutions, gained from a second survey, will provide essential information to the nation’s institutions and also inform NEH’s own work.”

Heritage Preservation’s President Lawrence Reger said, “IMLS and NEH continue to provide critical leadership for improving the care of collections. Heritage Preservation is pleased to partner with them to provide solid information that is used consistently by the field to measure achievement and guide future planning.”

About Heritage Preservation

Heritage Preservation is a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the United States. By identifying risks, developing innovative programs, and providing broad public access to expert advice, Heritage Preservation assists museums, libraries, archives, historical societies and other organizations, as well as individuals, in caring for our endangered heritage.

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About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Media Contacts: Paula Wasley at (202) 606-8424 or pwasley@neh.gov