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CPA Newsletter #21, Mar 1990

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access


March 1990

Number 21

Regional Services For University Preservation to be Explored Under Commission Contract

The Commission has contracted with the University of Pennsylvania and the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) to generate guidelines and collect data applicable to other institutions as part of a larger project to develop a university preservation program that optimizes a library’s capacity to use fluctuating resources and to concentrate costs on work products rather than overhead expense. The larger effort. funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the university, will test and operate a management plan for a preservation program using regional preservation center support facilities and staff, thus reducing the need for a large institutional commitment to internal staff, equipment, and space.

The project will take a broad approach that considers a full range of treatment options, the implications and roles of regional and national programs, and technological trade-offs. The Mid-Atlantic Preservation Service (MAPS) will be involved in the project, as well as several other preservation service groups.

The Commission contract includes production of a final report based on the project s findings, which will be issued upon its completion in mid-1991.

Reports in Progress to Address Preservation Research Needs

As the result of an October 1989 meeting with seven preservation librarians and archivists concerning a cooperative preservation research agenda, the Commission has initiated work on a set of reports to help bridge the gap between the preservation and scientific research communities. During discussions among preservation specialists. it became apparent that much relevant research has been or is being conducted. but there is only spotty communication among major participants: librarians, archivists. and scientists. Preservation specialists also tend to frame their inquiries in terms of specific applications, consequently overlooking the relevant generic research reported in the scientific literature.

As a first step toward developing a coordinated background for assessing research needs, the Commission–with the cooperation of conservationists, scientists, and researchers–is preparing a compilation of selected bibliographic sources and brief descriptions of the current research and focus of several research laboratories.

The Commission also has contracted with Donald K. Sebera, a conservation scientist, to prepare a report on the isoperm method, which can be used to predict the relative permanence of paper-based library and archival collections stored at various temperature and relative humidity levels. Sebera’s model allows managers to describe the effect that modifying the environment has on the anticipated longevity of collections.

The reports will be widely distributed when they are issued.

Communications Assistant Joins Commission Staff

In view of expanded activities, the Commission has hired a new assistant to work on this newsletter and other communications projects. Patricia (Trish) Cece, a journalism graduate from the University of Maryland, came to the Commission after two years of public relations experience with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and Davis Memorial Goodwill Industries. She can be contacted for assistance with newsletter subscriptions, mailing list corrections, and distribution of Commission materials.

Art History Committee Gains New Member

Nancy S. Allen, Librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has accepted an invitation to join the Scholarly Advisory Committee on Art History. This group of scholars and librarians is one of several convened by the Commission to consider preservation selection criteria in light of the needs of the various academic disciplines.

Special Report
Brittle Books: Legislative History, Future Directions

The following report by Patricia Battin was prepared for the Commission’s National Advisory Council on Preservation to clarify the intent of the Brittle Book program legislation and to provide a useful background for developing additional funding support for related preservation needs.

The Report of the Committee on Preservation and Access, Brittle Books, published in 1986, stated that “one of the most persistent and complicated elements of the preservation problem concerns ‘brittle books,’ the shorthand term for past publications produced on acid paper and now so deteriorated that they must be reproduced in some form or eventually they will be lost.” The Committee estimated, on the basis of a number of sampling studies, that approximately one-fourth of the volumes in our old, general research libraries are brittle and proposed a strategy for preserving a portion of these materials in such a way as to make them accessible to the nation. The enhanced access possible from the existence of a reformatted master copy was proposed as justification for federal support of considerable magnitude.

The Committee made the following general observations:

  • Responsibility for preservation is inseparable from the work of building and maintaining research collections. Collaboration among libraries in assuring the availability of unmatched research resources, nationally, implies collaboration in their preservation as well.
  • While preservation, per se, is a valid goal, it is the prospect of providing wider and more equitable access to a growing collection of preserved material that fully justifies the cost and effort.
  • Although items in all categories of recorded information deteriorate with time, realistic priorities must be established. The brittle books problem, large though it is, is one that can be defined and addressed with reasonable precision.
  • The preservation of archival materials is a coordinate matter that must be attended to. Unlike books published in editions of many copies, archival material is by definition unique, so the prospect for sharing responsibility among archives for preservation of essentially discrete collections is less promising than it is for libraries.

Based on these fundamental principles, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Preservation developed a program of which a major component is the implementation of a national initiative to reformat 3,000.000 volumes over a twenty-year period. Persuaded by testimony and supporting materials supplied by the Association of Research Libraries, the National Humanities Alliance. and the Commission on Preservation and Access, the Congress approved the NEH program in concept and funded the first year in 1988. The funding for the second year was recently approved.

As explicitly stated in Brittle Books the strategy to rescue books crumbled beyond repair is but one component of a comprehensive preservation program that must include local maintenance and care of collections damaged for reasons other than brittle paper. These causes include heavy use, mishandling, water damage, and the like. In many instances, reformatting is not necessarily the remedy of choice, since the paper is not yet brittle.

As the new federal funding has stimulated increased preservation activity in research libraries across the nation. competing priorities in this complex undertaking have come to the fore. it is imperative that these concerns be carefully considered as additional components within the larger context in order to establish an orderly set of activities. Failure to do so could result in the diversion ot funds for one specific initiative into a spectrum of needs, thus diluting the initial objective. Since there are insufficient funds in prospect in the NEH plan to preserve all the brittle books, diverting funds from the goal for which the rationale and funding were approved will reduce further our capacity to meet the program objectives.

The rationale for federal support of a massive microfilm project for acidic materials was based on the enhanced access afforded by a human-readable format capable of quick and inexpensive reproduction; in essence, a master copy format capable of cost-effective storage and broad dissemination. Although the funds for reformatting would flow in large part to the older research libraries holding the deteriorated collections, the benefits would be shared by the entire community. Given the capability of emerging technologies, microfilm, in the judgment of the Commission’s Technology Assessment Advisory Committee, represents the best and most cost-effective buffer technology with the flexibility of efficient conversion to digitized format when costs, standards, and retrieval software systems are stabilized and readily available.

The issue of repair as an alternative to microfilm was not considered as a federal responsibility in the initial legislation. The care and maintenance of a library collection has been traditionally viewed as a local responsibility, since damage to books can occur through heavy use, mishandling, flood, fire, and the like. Since repair of a damaged but not necessarily brittle volume does not provide expanded access and was not included in the initial program cost projections, a decision to include repair as a viable alternative supported by federal funds requires a definition of the “national interest” and a rationale for federal support of the repair of individual volumes in research libraries.

Mid-Sized Research Libraries Committee Issues Report on Programs of Interest; Ends Meetings as Separate Entity

The Mid-Sized Research Libraries Committee, which was charged in August 1988 with exploring a specific agenda for action within the context of the national preservation program, has decided that it would be more profitable to work with already-established groups than to operate as a separate entity. During their deliberations, committee members; identified a number of issues of particular concern to their institutions. These included education and training, centralized full-service filming agencies, relationships with the National Endowment for the Humanities, special needs of archives and special collections, preservation of electronic formats and demonstration projects of new technologies, improvements in binding quality, institutionalization of preservation and identification of organizations and consortia that could undertake coordinating roles.

Two major conclusions of the committee:

  • Mid-sized research libraries share the same concerns, interests, and commitments with libraries of all sizes; and
  • Members were impressed with the high level of activity of new and emerging programs on the national, regional, and local scenes.

On behalf of the Commission. we express our appreciation to the persons who served on this group: Paula Kaufman (chair), University of Tennessee; Sheila Creth, University of Iowa; Jan Merrill-Oldham, University of Connecticut; Marilyn Sharrow, University of California-Davis; Dale Canelas, University of Florida; Joan Gotwals, Emory University; Thomas Michalak, Carnegie-Mellon University; David Stam, Syracuse University; and C. Lee Jones, Mid-Atlantic Preservation Service.

Two Microfilm Research Projects Completed by Maps

Two contract reports on research and demonstration projects to provide data and technical information on full-scale preservation microfilm production have been submitted to the Commission by the Mid-Atlantic Preservation Service (MAPS). A report on a project to develop specifications for a composing reducing camera (CRC) concludes that–at this time–costs are too high to be supportable. This specifications are for a special CRC capable of digitizing 35mm films, producing film in different formats (roll and fiche) copying film to paper, and creating CD-ROM products. Despite the current insupportable costs, the CRC concept remains viable, according to MAPS president, C. Lee Jones, with at least one company investigating the possibility of producing a unit at less cost.

A second RD project involved a prototype “densities on the fly” unit. This unit collects density data as film exits a film processor, taking many readings from each frame to insure a high degree of accuracy. Production advantages are significant, both for cost reduction and improved film quality. At this project’s conclusion, the unit is in a preliminary stage of operation, but more fine-tuning will be necessary before it is used in full-time production. Jones sees this prototype as a useful tool for micrographic film evaluation and duplication, anticipating that as many as 50 units might well be sold when it is refined.

Sponsoring Institutions Attend New York Regional Meeting

Representatives of 15 sponsoring institutions from the Northeast-Middle Atlantic Region were invited to a discussion with the Commission January 25, at a regional meeting at the New York Public Library. Issues covered during the afternoon session included new technologies, international activities, educational programs, and selection methodologies. Colleges and universities invited to attend were: Amherst College, Brown University, Bryn Mawr College, Cornell University. Franklin and Marshall College, Hamilton College, Haverford College! Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York State Library, Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, Smith College, Syracuse University, Vassar College. Wellesley College, and Williams College. This is the second time that the Commission has arranged to hold its quarterly meetings in regional locations; last fall’s meeting was held in Chicago.

Micropublisher Survey Pretest Nears Completion

[Last summer, the Commission contracted with the Special Committee on the Preservation Needs of Law Libraries of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) to conduct a pretest of a survey of micropublishers concerning their filming standards. Under the contracts terms, two staff members from the Harvard Law Library Preservation Department were to conduct site visits to seven micropublishers to test a comprehensive survey covering microform production and quality control, storage of first-generation master negative film, storage containers and enclosures, and inspection of stored first-generation negatives. The following is a progress report on the project by Willis C Meredith, Preservation Librarian, Harvard Law School Library.]

The project contracted by the Commission on Preservation and Access to pretest a form for surveying micropublishers and preservation microfilmers is well underway. Seven microform publishers representing eleven companies and subsidiaries have agreed to participate in the pretest which is being conducted in two phases. The first phase, to send the draft form to four publishers, compile their responses, and make necessary revisions has been completed. Responses from this initial pretest indicate that most of the form is readily understandable. However, there were a number of instances where questions were not clear, did not cover all possible variations, or were simply inappropriate. The structure of the form has also been revised to avoid difficulties encountered by those completing it.

The second phase of the pretest is now underway. All of the publishers in the pretest group will receive the revised form, comment on it, and discuss the form with a member of the pretest team during a site visit. The form includes questions on standards for the production and storage of microform master negatives and the existence of records for access.

The entire project, including site visits, will be completed by spring 1990, and the form ready for use in a world wide survey. At the end of the pretest, a report will be prepared on the process. The individual responses from the various companies gathered during the pretest itself will be kept confidential although initial findings indicate that participants would not be adverse to publication of the results.

Another Commission Sponsor

Joining the 33 sponsors of the Commission listed in the January and February 1990 newsletters is New York Public Library. The support of the academic and research library community is a vital component of the Commission’s capacity to continue and expand its activities to facilitate national and international plans for the preservation of our scholarly resources and written heritage.

Commission on Preservation and Access
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington, DC 20036-2217
(202) 939-3400 Fax: (202) 939-3407

The Commission on Preservation and Access was established in 1986 to foster and support collaboration among libraries and allied organizations in order to ensure the preservation of the published and documentary record in all formats and to provide enhanced access to scholarly information.

The Newsletter reports on cooperative national and international preservation activities and is written primarily for university administrators and faculty, library and archives administrators, preservation specialists and administrators, and representatives of consortia, governmental bodies, and other groups sharing in the Commission’s goals. The Newsletter is not copyrighted; its duplication and distribution are encouraged.

Patricia Battin–President
Maxine K. Sitts–Program Officer, Editor
Pamela D. Block–Administrative Assistant
Patricia Cece, Communications Assistant


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