Institute Serves as Preservation Expert to the World

Aug 29, 2014

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'Game Changer' in the Cultural Heritage World

Since its humble beginnings nearly 30 years ago as the RIT Photographic Preservation Lab—a small department within the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences—IPI today has evolved into a world leader in the development, deployment, and dissemination of sustainable practices for the preservation of images and cultural property.

More than a thousand institutions around the world, including research libraries, museums, archives, and historical collections, employ IPI's technology and preservation management approaches, relying on IPI for its sage advice and information. For these institutions, IPI has become a trusted and valuable resource, research partner, and service provider.

"The research that IPI brings together in workshops and webinars is a game-changer in the cultural heritage world," said Erin Blake, curator of art and special collections for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. "Everyone with a responsibility for collections care needs to get the message, and IPI has proven that they are very, very good at doing that. Long may they continue."

According to Jerry Podany, senior conservator of antiquities for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, "IPI's research and contributions in the area of collections and archives care are well known throughout the preservation field."

"They have undertaken numerous solid and well-thought-out research programs, nationally and internationally, which have resulted in useful tools and data for those charged with conservation of cultural heritage," Podany said. IPI has achieved its success through a meticulously balanced offering of research, publications, educational activities, products, and services that meet the ever-changing and wide-ranging needs from world-class institutions to the corner library and the shoebox photo collector.

One example is IPI's wide range of topical webinars, which have been viewed in 47 countries around the world and in each of the United States, according to Patricia Ford, project manager.

"Here at IPI we've always understood that preservation research is an applied discipline in which the laboratory is only the beginning, and technical papers are not the end of the task before us," said James Reilly, who has served as IPI's director since its inception in 1985. "That is why we have tried at every turn to publish and disseminate our findings and to create publications and useful tools that serve the preservation and education mission."

Fiercely devoted to scientific research in preservation technology for library, museum, and archives materials, IPI's inaugural focus was the preservation of photography, microfilm, cinema, and other forms of recorded information. In the last decade, however, IPI has broadened its mission to include a wide array of materials found in cultural institutions and focusing on the role of the environment in preservation management.

Support from federal and private foundations continues to be critical in the development and distribution of IPI's technology. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are the primary sources for funding and outreach. Over the past year, IPI has received more than $1.5 million in federal funding. IPI also benefits from longstanding contracts with important institutions such as the Library of Congress—affiliated with IPI for more than 25 years—and the U.S. National Archives.

According to Daniel Burge, senior research scientist, all of the research and lab work "would be useless if it weren't converted into easy-to-understand-and-use publications and tools."

Today, Reilly notes that IPI has expanded its staff to 17 people comprising research scientists, preservation specialists, and administrative personnel. Over the years, the research and field-testing focus has expanded through the development of important tools for assessing and managing collection storage, and display environments in museums, libraries, and archives.

IPI has enhanced its six distinct websites and further developed a wide variety of online tools to assist research and education in support of artifact preservation.


To read the other sections, Environmental Consulting Services, Climate Change Spurring New Research, Preserving Film Collections for the Future, and Future of Preservation Continues to Evolve, visit the Research at RIT website.