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CPA Newsletter #46, Jun 1992

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access


June 1992

Number 46

Board Acknowledges National Advisory Council, Convenes Group of Preservation Administrators

After considerable discussion and thoughtful review of the Review and Assessment Committee’s report, the changing context of preservation activities, and comments of members of the National Advisory Council on Preservation, the Board voted at its April 30, 1992, meeting to dissolve the Council as a formal continuing body, with the hope that the group could be convened on an occasional basis as specific needs arise. In letters to the Council’s members, Chairman Billy Frye noted, “On behalf of the Commission’s Board and staff, thank you very much for your contributions to the health and vitality of the preservation movement during the critical period of its development.” He also acknowledged the group’s “important and essential contribution to the launching of a nationwide preservation effort during the past six years.”

At the same meeting, the Board voted to establish a group of preservation administrators to work with the Commission in a formal, continuing relationship to explore effective ways for preservation administrators to contribute their expertise to the broader issues of the comprehensive preservation effort. The group is expected to provide a productive forum for the discussion and analysis of problems, needs, and successes and the preparation of an agenda for ways the Commission can assist them through educational opportunities, cooperative activities, public visibility, and financial support.

College Libraries Committee to Investigate Access to Out-Of-Print Books

The Board has approved a contract with the Commission’s College Libraries Committee to investigate the possibility of enhancing access to out-of-print books by the use of digital technology.

The contract enables Committee members David Cohen, Dean of Libraries, College of Charleston, and Willis Bridegam, Librarian, Amherst College, to undertake preliminary planning in 1992 for a subsequent feasibility study of the economics and technology involved in reprinting out-of-print books. The feasibility study, projected to take place in 1993, would determine the advisability of developing a not-for-profit corporation to keep needed(l, academic books in print by bit-mapping them on high resolution scanners and by using new on-demand printing equipment to produce limited numbers of copies.

The issues to be studied–costs, hardware and software requirements, copyright, and the management of a digital database–are directly relevant to the use of digital technology for the preservation of and access to brittle books. Products of the initial contract include a business plan, a marketing plan, a licensing agreement, and a draft grant application for the next phase.

Agreement on International Standard for Permanent Paper

In early May, the Commission received word from Rolf DahlØ, chairman of the ISO-committee for Physical Keeping of Documents responsible for the international permanent paper standard (ISO/TC 46/SC 10) that there is a “clear majority” approving the circulation of the committee draft of the standard. The text will he circulate(J for six months as a Draft International Standard, the last stage before publication of the International Standard. As of May 5, there were 13 approving country votes for the draft, with one vote against. Ivar A.L. Hoel, the Secretary of the SC 10, noted that the ISO draft is very similar to the revised ANSI (NISO) standard presently under ballot and that the two, if they remain unchanged, will be “virtually interchangeable and will … make use of the same, well-known infinity symbol.”

Hoel also reports that the ISO draft will be sent to the European Standardization Organisation (CEN), which will conduct a ballot on it for a European Standard. DahlØ is with the National Office for Research and Special Libraries, Oslo, and Hoel is Director of The Royal School of Librarianship, Copenhagen.

Statewide Preservation Programs Issue Brochures, Reports

The Massachusetts Task Force on Preservation and Access has issued its report, Preserved to Serve: The Massachusetts Preservation Agenda, a guide for cooperative preservation activity in the state, as well as a brochure describing the state’s planning process and goals. Massachusetts was one of the early states to receive an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Division of Preservation and Access to develop a collaborative preservation agenda. Beginning in November 1990, a task force of librarians, archivists, town clerks, and preservation specialists worked to survey preservation needs and develop a coordinated plan. The agenda now has been approved by both the state’s Board of Library Commissioners and the Archives Advisory Commission. The report and brochure are available from Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, 648 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02215-2070.

The North Carolina Preservation Consortium (NCPC) has issued an eloquent report, A Long and Happy Life. Library and Records Preservation in North Carolina. This state was another of the first to receive an NEH planning grant. The Consortium was incorporated in 1989 by a diverse group of professionals, technicians, managers, and concerned citizens. After receiving the NEH grant, it studied conditions in government centers, offices, and libraries, and held discussions with citizens and library and archival professionals across the state. The Consortium summarizes its mission as: to inform for preservation, to coordinate for preservation, and to leverage support for preservation; state citizens are invited to become members and support its activities. The 1 2-page illustrated report is available from Harlan Greene, NCPC, c/o the Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville Street, Durham, North Carolina 27701-3915.

Update on Mass Deacidification
Library of Congress Action Plan for Mass Deacidification

After concluding that only one mass deacidification process currently has the potential to meet all of the Library of Congress’s (LC) preservation and related technical requirements, James Billington, The Librarian of Congress, has requested $375,000 to proceed with the first phase of a three-phase action plan. The plan proposes to correct remaining problems with the technology and to contract for deacidification services in graduated increments, culminating with the treatment of 300,000 books per year at an annual cost of $4.5 million.

In the past few months, LC’s Gerald Garvey, Preservation Projects officer, and Dr. Donald Sebera, Chemist, Preservation Research and Testing Office, visited most of the firms and major institutions in the world offering or evaluating mass deacidification services (25 in all). Based on that survey, the library determined that there is currently no alternative superior to Akzo Chemicals’ DEZ process. Other processes, however, may have the potential for future commercialization.

The funding requested for FY 1992-93 would enable the library to resolve odor, discoloration, and other problems identified by an evaluation panel that reviewed vendors’ proposals in response to a September 199O Request for Proposals issued by LC. on August 3O, 1991, the library canceled the solicitation because none of the vendors met all of the library’s technical requirements.

When the odor and discoloration problems are resolved, LC plans to seek approval for funding to proceed to deacidify a limited number of hooks from its collection to gain experience with actual production The time line for the action plan indicates that 50,000 books would be treated by Akzo during Phase 2, Fi 1993-94, and that L.C. would then move into Phase 3, competitive contracts for deacidification services.

Institutional Contexts for Mass Deacidification Explored in ARL Report

A variety of viewpoints from a cross-section of institutions involved in exploring and using mass deacidification technologies is presented in a 11-page report, Roundtable of Mass Deacidification, published by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The report includes the proceedings of a September 1992 roundtable sponsored by ARI. and the Northeast Document Conservation Center and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Speakers included research library directors. collection development and preservation officers, and scientists. The report includes the edited texts of talks on management and institutional issues, funding strategies, scientific views, and cooperative approaches to mass deacidification. Roundtable on Mass Deacidification, edited by Peter C, Sparks, is available for 520.00 from the Association of Research Libraries, 1527 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Science Panel Comments on Accelerated Aging Tests, Storage of Safety Film

A panel of librarians, archivists, and conservators has completed comments on a set of reports as part of a broad-based science research initiative of the Commission. Two will be discussed here: (1) Accelerated aging remains a major method of testing for paper permanence. A succinct, yet complete, description of these tests by Robert Feller provides useful background information for preservation administrators, since it explains basic principles that have not changed. (2) A three-year project at the Image Permanence Institute sought to measure the rate of deterioration in the major types of safety film. Conclusions and recommendations are particularly useful in a variety of institutional settings.

Some Factors to be Considered in Accelerated Aging Tests, Robert L. Feller. Preprint, 15th Annual Meeting (Vancouver, 1987) of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Available from AIC, 1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 340, Washington, DC 20036.
For members of the archives community, the accelerated aging test is a familiar, accepted, and even comforting preservation tool. It is commonly understood to he a procedure that can he used to predict the long-term stability of a material in a relatively short period of time through the use of heat under controlled conditions. It is believed to be a single, simple, and unfailingly accurate test that will pinpoint materials that are acceptable, and unacceptable, for preservation purposes. Many archivists and preservation professionals hold these views, and while they are not dangerous or even wholly inaccurate, they are simplistic and can lead to a misunderstanding about the meaning of and relationship among test results, conclusions, and recommendationsAs a result, Robert Feller’s article should be required reading for all archives professionals concerned about the materials used to house and treat documents. It articulates the rationale behind accelerated aging tests, then delves into their conceptual and operational complexities by exploring elements of test design, execution, and interpretation. A rarity among the scientific literature, it is thorough, clear, and informative; presents examples that are relevant to the archives community; and can be readily understood by preservation administrators, conservators, and archivists alike.

Karen Garlic Senior Conservator, National Archives and Records Administration

The article begins with a description of what factors should be considered when selecting properties to be monitored. Decisions such as which properties are to he tested, how to monitor the degree of change and establishing acceptable limits of change are explained…. Chemical changes are easier to define and measure than physical changes. Because chemical properties can be related to physical properties, however, chemical changes are currently considered acceptable indicators of the stability of materials.Of particular interest to the preservation librarian are the two sections of the article regarding conditions for accelerated aging tests and problems of classification.

The selection of test conditions such as light sources, temperature and humidity will affect the outcome of the test. Standards for conditions to test photochemical deterioration have not been established. Ultimately, the conservation researcher chooses what is tested and how. Feller’s discussion of light sources, temperature and relative humidity factors gives clear indication of how these decisions will affect the results and interpretation of the tests. In doing so, he emphasizes the need for standards for controls in testing procedures.

The explanation of classification, or relative ranking, as a standard for the life expectancy of materials is useful. The practical serviceability of materials falling into the intermediate Class B is difficult to ascertain, as is the practical difference between materials expected to last 200 years and those expected to last 400 years. The argument for a need to establish long-term testing is well taken.

Kathlene Ferris, Curator of Manuscripts, Center for Southwest Research

Final Report to the Office of Preservation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Grant # PS-20159-88, Preservation of Safety Film, by James M. Reilly, Director; Peter Z. Adelstein Consultant; and Douglas W. Nishimura, Scientist, Image Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, March 28, 1991.
This report, resulting from studies conducted by the Image Permanence Institute, offers several conclusions that are important for archivists to consider. Indeed, for many archival programs, the study conclusions may require a shift in approach to film preservation priorities. Among those conclusions are:

  • The widely accepted belief among archivists that cellulose nitrate base film is less stable than safety cellulose esters is not supported by the study findings. It appears that some nitrate films may have as long a life as some of the safety films. “When stored under proper conditions, cellulose nitrate can be just as stable as cellulose triacetate.” [18]. This fact calls into question the “automatic response” that the top priority for archival film preservation is to duplicate all nitrate film onto safety triacetate or polyester supports. The study team concludes, “Film archivists should give highest priority for duplication to that film which shows some incipient signs of degradation, regardless of base type.”[25]
  • The belief by many archivists that the “vinegar syndrome” [cellulose triacetate degradation with the accompanying generation of acetic acid] is characteristic only of older diacetate base films is not supported by the study findings. It is not known, at present, whether older diacetate base films are actually less stable than newer triacetate films.[4] [18]
  • Storage benefits must be weighed against increased installation and operating costs, and the benefits of storage conditions below 50% have never been established definitively. The study findings suggest that the magnitude of change warrants serious administrative consideration of providing a storage environment with a lower relative humidity. “When the relative humidity was lowered from 50% to 20%, the stability of the film increased by a factor ranging from 3 to 10 depending on the materials and physical property.” [19]. The study authors conclude that the benefits are not marginal but substantive. “Archives should seriously consider reducing their storage humidity [for film] to relatively low levels. This represents a marked change in thinking. [23–emphasis added] . The study findings indicate that the beneficial effects of low temperature and low relative humidity storage are additive and represent the optimum storage condition for cellulose ester base films.
  • The study findings reaffirm previous studies that suggest the superior chemical stability of polyester base films. It concludes that polyester base films have a predicted life in excess of 1,000 years at 20[DEGREES] C. and 50% RH storage conditions. None of the cellulose esters can match the superior stability of polyester base. [19].

Howard Lowell, State Archivist & Records Administrator, Delaware

  1. The first conclusion relates to the chemical stability of different cellulose ester base films; findings indicate that there is no inherent difference in the stabilities of diacetate, triacetate, or mixed esters contrary to a commonly held assumption that obsolete diacetate films are less stable than more recent films.
  2. Cellulose nitrate film in storage will not necessarily degrade faster than other cellulose ester base films (there is still the safety factor to consider, however).
  3. Decisions for duplication should not be based solely on base type, but on signs of degradation.
  4. Polyester base films are of superior chemical stability.
  5. Film life increases significantly when storage RH is lowered below 50%
  6. The use of cold storage facilities should be considered in order to prolong the chemical stability of valuable and unique photographic films.
  7. A combination of low temperature and low RH represent the optimum storage condition for cellulose ester base films.

Christine Ward, Chief, Bureau of Archival Services, New York State Archives

Implications: For years, many institutions have given priority to copying nitrate films because of the common belief that they are very unstable–if not downright dangerous. It was also a common belief that diacetate films are less stable than the more modern triacetate. Libraries and archives that are able to provide good storage conditions might now reconsider the urgency of duplicating all of their nitrate film and instead give higher priority to monitoring all film collections and duplicating any film–whatever its type–if deterioration is evident.Copying older motion picture film is a very costly process. For institutions able to provide lower humidity storage conditions and thus dramatically prolong the useful life of their films, this report should be very welcome news. Those with collections that are entirely on polyester film should have nothing to worry about for a long time to come. The only negative consideration that occurs to me after reading this important report is the increased cost involved in maintaining film vaults at lower humidities–recently estimated for our institution to be several thousand dollars per year.

Margaret Byrnes, Head, Preservation Section, National Library of Medicine

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


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