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CPA Newsletter #22, Apr 1990

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access


April 1990

Number 22

Directory of Information on Scientific Research Related to Books and Paper

As preservation administrators generate new approaches to saving the scholarly resources in the nation’s academic and cultural institutions, they have called for the development of a directed, shared scientific research agenda. For example, at a Fall 1989 meeting sponsored by the Commission, preservation specialists working in library and archives environments identified common needs for verified documentation concerning the longevity and fragility of paper, adhesives, and other materials that are used in the production of books and other paper-based collections. To help develop a central resource for such information, the Commission contacted some of the major organizations and laboratories working in those specific areas.

Based on information supplied by these organizations, The Directory of Information Sources on Scientific Research Related to The Preservation of Books, Paper, and Adhesives was compiled to be of use to preservation administrators in individual institutions, as well as to the preservation community as a whole. The selected directory includes the following sections: Introduction; Laboratories and Organizations; Indexes, Abstracts, and Databases; Publications and Newsletters; and a concluding section which has not previously been published, “Preservation Research at the Library of Congress–Recent Progress and Future Trends,” by Chandru J. Shahani.

Complimentary copies of the 28-page publication have been sent to the several hundred preservationists, librarians, and archivists currently on the Commission’s mailing lists. Additional copies are available at no cost while supplies last, and reproduction is encouraged.

Preservation, especially preservation of state archival records or the information they contain, should be one of our highest continuing nationwide priorities.

NAGARA Government Records Issues Series, No. 2, State Government Records Programs: A Proposal National Agenda, November 1989.

College Art Association Members Address Brittle Book Agenda at Annual Conference

The College Art Association (CAA) helped support the Commission’s Giant Brittle Book exhibit at its 1990 Annual Conference in New York City February 14-17 and also sponsored a session entitled: Saving Brittle Books and Journals–An Update on the Preservation of and Access to Scholarly Resources in the History of Art. Dr. Larry Silver from Northwestern University, chair of the Commission’s Scholarly Advisory Committee on Art History, spoke on “The Problem That Will Not Go Away” to about 30 CAA members during the joint session, which was organized by CAA’s Board and the Commission’s Advisory Committee. The text of his talk, included in the insert to this newsletter, presents an art historian’s unique perspective on preservation and access issues.

News from the Hill

House Hearing Moves Forward National Policy on Permanent Paper

[The following is reprinted with permission from the February 27 ALA Washington Newsletter.]

The House Government Information, Justice, and Agriculture Subcommittee held a hearing February 21 on HJ. Res. 226, to establish a national policy on permanent paper. Witnesses included the bill’s principal sponsor, Rep. Pat Williams (D-MT), Librarian of Congress James Billington, U.S. Archivist Don Wilson, and Lawrence Hughes, Chairman of the Association of American Publishers. All were supportive of the legislation, which now has 73 cosponsors. Chairman Bob Wise (D-WI) said the measure “is designed to heighten awareness of the problem and to generate reports from some of the federal agencies that are most affected.” His questions to witnesses indicated a desire to limit the number of reports, a suggestion to which Rep. Williams agreed. Rep. Williams characterized H. Res. 226 as unique: “Many organizations support it; none oppose it. It costs nothing; and, in fact, will eventually save millions not only for the Federal Government, but also for State and local governments, colleges and universities, libraries and archives. A book published on permanent paper today does not have to be deacidified or microfilmed tomorrow.”

OMB Makes Case for Preservation; NEH’S Cheney Praises Filming Effort

[The following two excerpts are reprinted with permission from the February 13, 1990 National Humanities Alliance Memorandum by John Hammer]

From news on the President’s FY-1991 Budget Proposals:

…The lengthy essay by OMB Director Richard Darman that precedes the specific recommendations in The Budget for Fiscal 1991 includes a four-page section (pp 165-68) entitled “Preserving America’s Heritage’ that opens with the following paragraph:

One might ask what “preserving America’s cultural heritage” may have to do with investing in America’s future. To many the connection is not obvious. But the connection is important nonetheless. To the extent that investing in the future tends to emphasize technological advances–as it should–there is a need to assure a counterbalancing attention to aesthetics values. To the extent that it implies a race through time, there is a need for a balancing appreciation of history. And to the extent that America’s traditional cultural values have helped make America uniquely strong, it is important that these values be preserved–in order that they may be built upon as America continues to advance.

… A two paragraph section on NEH National Endowment for the Humanities] specifically cites preservation activities mentioning both the brittle books filming initiative and the national heritage program to improve conservation in cultural collections and train conservators….

From news of the February Meeting of the National Council on the Humanities:

…With reference to the Endowment’s preservation activities, Mrs. [Lynne] Cheney said that brittle books and other cultural materials at risk is a world wide problem to which the U.S. response is extraordinary–the NEH supported preservation filming project is “the envy of the world.”

The Problem That Will Not Go Away

By Dr. Larry Silver, Professor
Art History Department
Northwestern UniversityPresented February 16, 1990
Annual Conference of the College Art Association New York City

It is difficult to convey the horror that one feels to pick up an important periodical from around 1890 or so, opening the large, well-bound, weighty tome to an important article about an artist then active or an archive transcribed then for the first and only time–only to have the page that one is examining so intently literally crumble into tiny, dusty fragments in one’s hands. Knowing that you are the last person in that library ever to be able to consult that article. Knowing that in libraries in both Europe and America other readers are having the same frightening experience. Knowing that in a short time, all trace of that resource will be gone forever–unless something can be done to preserve it.

The problem is called “Brittle Books.” Because so much of the publishing during the 19th and earlier 20th century was done on inexpensive, wood-pulp paper, it is filled with acid that literally causes it to self-destruct, like the tapes on the old television show, Mission Impossible. We have all seen the same phenomenon with old newspaper clippings, yellowing and tearing despite their undisturbed place in our albums. And we have seen the deterioration of artworks with such paper, from the drawings on cardboard of Toulouse-Lautrec to the newsprint collages of Braque and Picasso. Well, the same peril exists for the other cultural resources of the past couple of centuries on acid paper. Even where many libraries have stored their heritage of books with care, the very paper of those books remains the culprit.

Statistics tell a poor story, but they do suggest the breadth of the problem. About one fourth of the volumes in most libraries can already be described as brittle, that is in critical condition as patients, and three-quarters or more of the books in all libraries are on acid-based paper, eventually to become brittle with time. We are talking here about most of the books and journals that we all use–and we are talking about them as “endangered species”!

Fortunately, some awareness of this problem developed among leading librarians before we noticed it. A national task force, called the Committee on Preservation and Access, was formed. The Commission has already had some success as an advocacy organization. Among its recent achievements is a demand to publishers to print no more books on acid-based paper. Those of you who are authors of books or journal articles should do your best to insist that your immortal words are printed on acid-free paper; otherwise their shelf-life will be dated like the produce in supermarkets.

The Commission on Preservation and Access has also taken on the thankless and weighty task of long-range planning to deal concretely with the problem of Brittle Books. Based in Washington, the Commission has begun soliciting input from the users of books–including CAA members. A small Art History Advisory Committee has been formed, and it is matched by user groups from related humanities fields, such as History, Modern Languages, and Philosophy. Now, the art historians have tried to make the point that we have to worry about the entire visual patrimony from the past two centuries. Not just the scholarly monographs, catalogues, and journals, but also the innumerable publications with graphic art works, especially the classic publications, such as Charivari, The Yellow Book, or Simplicissimus. We try to serve as reminders that for architects or historians of the city, possibly every page of newsprint is a valuable document. However, not everything can be saved. And out of what can be saved, priorities must be set. It is like playing God, or at least Solomon.

But a job has to be done, and you owe it to yourself and to those who will follow you with similar interests to stand up and let your interests be heard.

Are there any principles that can be followed in making these selections of priority preservation projects? Maybe. The Advisory Committee has set three criteria as paramount in the choice of a work to be preserved: first, its brittleness or danger of immediate loss; second its rarity, in terms of information contained nowhere else; third, its general “importance,” however we want to define that term.

One issue that arises immediately is the question of what preservation means, and the Advisory Committee is particularly concerned about the poor quality of current microfilm technology for preserving visual information from even simple black-and-white images. The Commission has been sensitive to that question and is underwriting serious investigation into both photographic technology and digital storage of information in computerized form. For the photographic imagery, they are investigating both the fidelity of half-tone reproduction as well as the age and storage potential of film. There are distinctions that can be made here as well. Half-tone reproductions are rare before 1880, and the earliest reproduction–woodcuts or lithographs–do copy fairly well onto film; how they would scan into a computer is not yet clear but should be evident soon. Of course, another possibility always exists: conservation, by means of de-acidification or plastic wraps around brittle pages. But it is labor intensive and very expensive, and here the items would have to be picked most carefully. The key to future use will have to be preservation for the most part, saving the information and the imagery both through reproduction–on film or on computer disk.

One suggestion that has been raised in the interest of efficiency is to use central collections as starting points for reproducing important holdings in essential early fields of scholarship, such as archaeology. Another suggestion is that reproducing basic periodicals will serve the largest community, beyond the narrower interests of particular fields. Grants are already available for some projects; usually they are proposed by single libraries. And of course, some essential works have already been reproduced in the form of reprints during the 1960s and 70s–these can be easily crossed off the list, though we need to know what that list should be. And you are the ones who stand most to benefit–and to lose–according to how you respond to this crisis.

Think about it: what are the essential books, periodicals, original titles that you most consult? What foundational materials in your field of interest would it be most critical to lose? In America, even in Europe, what are the libraries that you would go to first to answer the questions you cannot answer at home? What works would you single out for conservation of the object, as opposed to preservation of the contents on film or on disk? The Advisory Committee is trying to plan a broad strategy for preservation, but it needs your help on both the broad scale and on the specifics of procedures.

Here is where we are right now. Microfilming is still the most practical and durable storage material, especially when it comes to the issue of flexibility of use (such as enlargement, reproduction, and distribution) as far as current technology is concerned. Microfilm can be used as film, used as printout, even used as the source for later storage on computer or unknown alternate technology.

Some of the problems with microfilm reproduction of half tones will be special to art history, and they are receiving attention. A new grant-sponsored Task Force will explore the problems of preservation of drawings, photographs, maps and other visual imagery in terms of the specific needs of art history types and other students of the visual. One possible solution is the use when necessary of a flexible Cibachrome technology used in Europe for color reproduction on microfilm, with extremely high resolution and subtlety of tones. Digitizing computer imagery is also currently being explored; however, despite the explosion of technology in this field, storage of visual data remains extremely inefficient, even for a single image.

graphic omitted

There is good reason to hope for a central collection of preserved material, a new mega-library with wide accessibility. But the key is selection–and soon. If scholars and users of art historical material do not respond, then these difficult decisions will be made by others with different needs and different criteria. Future generations depend upon us today. Those of us connected on your behalf with the Commission on Preservation and Access eagerly solicit your questions and your suggestions.

New Preservation Concern: Video Recordings

by Alan Calmes, Preservation Officer, National Archives and Records Administration
[During the November 9, 1989 regional meeting of the Commission with sponsors and members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, participants raised concerns about the preservation of information on video tape. To address these concerns, the Commission asked Alan Calmes, a member of its Advisory Council, to prepare the following article.]

In every instance where motion picture film used to be the information carrier, video tape recordings are found now. The change has been sudden and the preservation consequences not yet appreciated. The survival of contemporary moving images will depend upon a systematic reaction to this new preservation concern.

The advantages of video tape recordings have forced producers to abandon the use of motion picture film for the instant playback capability, easy editing, and low-cost of video production. Users like other advantages: fast forward, stop, reverse, quick and easy to play, no need for screen and projector, compact, easy to mail, familiar TV format. However, there are long-term disadvantages that must be recognized. Video tape is not a long-lasting medium; each time it is played it loses some of the picture signal. Another major problem with the preservation of video recordings is not so much the life-expectancy of the tape but the obsolescence of the machinery necessary to read the tape. Once a format has been abandoned, machinery will rapidly become scarce and even spare parts will become difficult to find after a few years.

A particular video tape format requires a particular machine for playing. Since 1956 over 30 different formats have been used, each requiring a special machine. Most of these have been professional, educational, and industrial formats. There are only 3 consumer formats: Beta ™, VHS ™, and 8 mm. The manufacturer will not stockpile spare parts for old machines; those out in service have a meantime to failure of only about 2000 hours of playing time. Beta ™ spare parts, for example, are already scarce.

Standards will not prevent the proliferation of incompatible formats. The many formats created during the past 30 years were produced according to standards. The new digital formats, however, may provide for re-copying of images without degradation of image quality, since the information will always be in some kind of digital code rather than in an analog signal as has been the case until today. Each time an analog recording is copied there is an increase in ratio of noise to signal.

In the near future, preservation of digital video pictures will become an activity closely associated with the more complex world of computer data preservation, the use of computer storage devices, and constantly changing software. New tape formulations with unknown aging characteristics, such as metal particle tape, are likely to replace the more familiar magnetic tape, and new formats for high definition television will further complicate matters.

As it is known today, magnetic video tape for analog video recordings consists of a base of polyethylene terephthalate, commonly called “polyester,” and a recording layer of polyester polyurethane, referred to here to avoid confusion as “polyurethane.” Some tapes are also back-coated. Polyester is dimensionally stable, which is important for consistent tracking, strong, and long-lasting. Polyurethane is durable, which is important for resisting wear by contact with the video-machine reading head. The polyurethane layer is called the “binder” for it binds in place the ferromagnetic particles which hold the signal which is the source of information to the machine for generating a picture. Lubricants also are placed in the binder to prevent friction. The back-coating, usually of polyurethane, prevents static. The chemical formulations for each layer vary from one manufacturer to the next; they are industrial secrets. It is a challenge to the professional and consumer alike to judge which tape is best.

The U.S. Consumer Reports have evaluated tapes for dropouts, noise, dynamic range, and bandwidth, but not for durability and longevity. There are differences in the performance of tapes and certainly there are differences in longevity. Higher quality tape may give better performance but not necessarily better life-expectancy. During the tape manufacturing process, despite industrial quality control procedures, some tapes will be flawed. Flaws can lead to difficulties, such as drop-outs. Some off-brand tapes may be manufactured with recycled polyester; some even may be reused tapes.

Accelerated aging of tape samples have been carried out by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, formerly National Bureau of Standards) for the National Archives. NIST estimates the useful lifetime of digital computer tapes to be about 20 years when maintained in ambient environmental conditions. (Currently, video tapes and computer tapes are similar magnetic tapes.)

Considering the system as a whole–machine and medium–professionally produced video magnetic tape recordings may have a life-expectancy of 15-30 years under controlled storage conditions, careful handling, infrequent playback, and maintenance of a serviceable machine. The tape should be re- tensioned before playback and re wound evenly. The tape head and tape must be clean. The distance between the video head of the player/recorder and the tape itself is only about .02 mils. A fingerprint can leave as much as a .6 mils film on the tape, which can push the read/write head away from the tape, resulting in a loss of signal. Dust particles are huge in comparison with the reading gap and may gouge into the surface of the tape; this is called a “head crash.”

Normal library environment is likely to have high and fluctuating relative humidity, which is detrimental to tape, resulting in embrittlement of the tape. If care is not taken to wind the tape evenly, to keep the reading head clean and to wipe away residues from tape surfaces, the tape will become damaged and the system as a whole will become degraded: a damaged tape will damage the machine and a damaged machine in turn will damage tapes.

With consumer video products, it is difficult to control the tape guide, speed, and tension. A professional recorder/ player, on the other hand, is designed specifically to provide for control over these variables. A professional video recorder, however, costs about 100 times more than a consumer VCR.

With present technology, the only way to guarantee the long term (100+ years) preservation of video images is to copy them to black and white motion picture film and store the film in a cool, dry pollutant free environment. One can copy the video images to color film for medium-term (50+ years) preservation. In cold storage (0.0 degrees C) color images can survive long term. A future method of preserving video recordings may be to copy analog video to digital video and thereafter copy the digital tape periodically to keep up with changing technology and to avoid being left with a tape that can not be read by existing machines.


Tips on Extending the Life of Video Recordings
Use professional 1″ format to generate a preservation master.

Use commercial VCR for user reference copy. Do not use high compaction systems, because hardware precision increases with compaction, as the tape tracks are very close together. Only use brandname tapes. Avoid extended play, thin tapes. Always use a new tape. Use a tape-certifying machine to weed out flawed tapes. Record at standard speed or fastest speed available. Rewind at slow speed before storage and before playing. Rewind in the same environment as the storage environment before storage and same environment as operating equipment before recording or playing. Tension must not be too loose nor too tight.

Monitor the condition of tapes: look for edge damage and residues on surface. Recopy when deterioration is noted and/ or when the format is obsolete. Differentiate between the master copy and use/distribution copies. Produce the master copy under controlled operations and environment. Designate a repository to be responsible for the preservation of the master copy. Only use the master to make distribution copies; ideally, this should be done rarely. Rewind the master on slow speed every few years. A special re-wind machine should be used.

Most importantly, relative humidity should be kept stable and low, the lower the better, but not below 30% relative humidity (RH), and never above 55% RH. Once a relative humidity level has been chosen, say 40% RH, then it should not vary more than an average of plus/minus 5% RH during a 24 hour period. Tapes may be conditioned to 40% RH at storage temperature and sealed in foil-lined bags, in which case only the temperature need be maintained exactly. Temperature is equally important and should be stable and as low as possible, but not below freezing and never above 23 degrees C (73 degrees F). Minor fluctuations such as an average plus/minus 2.8 degrees C (5 degrees F) are permitted during a 24 hour period.

The tape and the machine should be conditioned to the same environment. The air must be clean and free of pollutant gases, especially those from oil-based paints, insecticides, perfumes, cigarettes, and chemical cleaners. There should be no dust or smoke present in the storage or operating environment. Even short term inappropriate environmental conditions can contribute to the degradation of the tape and its magnetic signal.

One must avoid subjecting tapes to shocks of rapid and extreme temperature/relative humidity changes, especially upon reading the tape on a reader. Before using tapes that have been shipped, re-equilibrate them 24-48 hours in the same environment as the video machine.

Recent Additions to Complimentary Materials Available from the Commission

The following have been added to the Commission’s supply of materials available at no cost upon written request to Trish Cece, Communications Assistant. Please let us know what use you are making of these materials when you send your request.

Reprint from The Bottom Line, Volume 3, Number 4, “Fiscal Currents: Preserving Our Crumbling Collections – An Interview with Patricia Battin,” by Betty J. Turlock. Published by Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York City. A two-page interview on the scope and costs of the brittle books agenda.

Reprint from Research Update, Winter 1990, “Preserving Our Intellectual Record: An Exercise in Mutability,” by Tina L. Creguer. Published by University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Ml. An eight- page overview of progress and techniques for preservation.

graphic omitted

Especially for publishers, provided to the Commission by the National Information Standards Organization: Camera-ready copies–in various sizes–of the “infinity” symbol used to designate use of permanent paper and copies of the ANSI standard for permanence of paper for printed library materials, which provides guidance on how publishers can comply with the standard and how they can place the statement and infinity symbol in their publications.

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice… and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to hear”

By Gilbert Highet, from Advertising and Marketing News

Another Commission Sponsor

Wesleyan University has joined with 34 other academic institutions to help sponsor the Commission’s activities. The support of the higher education and research library community is a vital component of the Commission’s capacity to facilitate national and international initiatives for the preservation of our scholarly resources and written heritage.

ARL to Develop Descriptive Preservation Models

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) will be developing descriptive models of preservation programs in academic libraries, under a grant award from the H.W. Wilson Foundation. The project will make available descriptive and quantitative information about preservation staffing, program components, and expenditures in ARL libraries. As designed by the ARL Committee on Preservation of Research Libraries Materials, the project is expected to allow a thorough analysis of the various preservation activities needed to confront the challenge of preserving research resources. In addition, ML expects to develop benchmarks and statistical profiles for differing levels of preservation program development.

Working with ARL staff are Jan Merrill-Oldham, Preservation Librarian, University of Connecticut; Carolyn Clark Morrow, Preservation Librarian, Harvard University; and Mark Russo, Preservation Librarian, University of Delaware. Also participating as the project’s advisory committee are three members of ARL’s standing committee on preservation: Scott Bennett, Director of Libraries at Johns Hopkins University; Carole Moore, Chief Librarian at University of Toronto Libraries; and William Studer, Director of Libraries at Ohio State University. Patricia McClung, Associate Director for Programs, Research Libraries Group, is serving as a liaison. ARL plans to publish the project’s results in Fall 1990.

U.C. Berkeley Site of Third Regional Meeting

The Commission will be holding its third regional meeting with sponsors and other interested institutions–this time on the West Coast. The July 9 meeting will be held at the University of California at Berkeley. Previous regional meetings have been held in Chicago and New York City.

Subscription Reminder

A primary purpose of the Commission is to establish a two-way communication link with university administrators, scholars, government officials, library directors, and key library staff members to help shape national preservation initiatives. With that goal in mind, this newsletter is produced and funded to provide a direct, regular information flow among individuals actively concerned with preservation issues. To keep our costs at a reasonable level, the circulation is controlled to reflect the above primary audiences. We are not able to provide complimentary copies to Serials Departments for processing. Directors of libraries that are members of the Association of Research Libraries and the Oberlin Group receive TWO copies of this newsletter, sent separately by non-profit bulk-mail rate. A copy can be distributed within your institution to staff members, college/university administrators, and others who are interested in national and international preservation efforts. The newsletter is not copyrighted and may be freely reproduced. To help us control our mailing costs, please send address corrections to: Trish Cece, Communications Assistant.

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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