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Preservation & Access International Newsletter No. 7


Number 7
September 1999


Remembering Culture

Switzerland Establishes Mass Deacidification Facility

Memory of the World Draws International Attention to Preservation

News from the ECPA

Blue Shield: The Red Cross of Preservation

Standard for Permanent Paper Reapproved

Remembering Culture
Recently, there has been increased interest in the social, economic, and political importance of preserving culture. The World Bank has a new focus on this area and will sponsor a conference in Florence this fall on the economics of culture in sustainable development. In the United States, The Pew Charitable Trusts will devote some $50 million to activities that will help shape a national cultural policy.

It is through recorded history that much of our culture, or the information providing context for cultural artifacts or practices, survives. Preserving the world’s cultural heritage cannot be done without involving its custodians. This is acknowledged in the program for the next Dahlem conference on culture, to be held in Berlin in March: “Rational Decision-Making in the Preservation of Cultural Property.” For the first time, this annual invitational conference will provide a forum for librarians and archivists.

This newsletter highlights two international initiatives to safeguard cultural heritage: UNESCO’s Memory of the World and Blue Shield. An ambitious project in Switzerland is also profiled. While of intrinsic interest, the project is notable for gaining the support of politicians for whom access to the historical record assumed new importance in debates about the Swiss role in World War II. We look forward to reporting further on the progress of these and other initiatives in preservation and access.

Switzerland Establishes Mass Deacidification Facility

In December 1998, ground was broken for a new Swiss mass deacidification facility.

The decision to build the facility was based on the results of a national research project in 1990, which concluded that the holdings of Swiss libraries and archives are under serious threat of acid-induced paper decay. In view of the vast quantities of print materials involved, the Swiss National Library and the Swiss Federal Archives embarked upon a comprehensive policy to preserve their holdings. The focus is on two preservation techniques, namely, microfilming to preserve information, and mass deacidification to preserve original documents. The policy will be complemented by a far-reaching preventive conservation program.

With regard to mass deacidification, the Swiss National Library expects approximately 800 metric tons of acidic paper-almost 60 percent of its holdings-to need treatment. The Swiss Federal Archives have identified an equal amount of acidic materials. In 1990, the two organizations decided to cooperate in creating a facility that could satisfy the deacidification needs of both library and archival documents.

System Evaluation

A careful system evaluation was conducted for the pilot project. Starting in 1991, the world’s leading systems-Wei T’o, Battelle-System, Lithco, DEZ and Bookkeeper-were evaluated. The two most promising systems, DEZ and Lithco, were then subjected to a series of rigorous tests. This initial evaluation took two-and-a-half years, resulting in a double negative: both DEZ and Lithco turned out to have undesirable side effects. Moreover, their quality did not satisfy Swiss criteria.

In 1993 and 1994, the project group conducted a twelve-part test series with an expanded Battelle system, which uses the non-aqueous solvent, magnesium titanium ethylate, dissolved in hexamethyl disiloxane, HMDO. A comprehensive, in-depth evaluation of the test results showed the papersave process, developed by Battelle Ingenieurtechnik GmbH, to be suitable for both loose-leaf archive stock and bound library holdings, as well as being technically feasible.The Swiss facility is the third generation of the Battelle process.

Costs and Pricing

For the construction of the facility, in summer 1998 the Swiss Parliament authorized an object-related credit of CHF 13.5 million (about US$ 9 million) and a total of treatment credits of CHF 10 million (about US$ 6.7 million) for both institutions for the first five years. Also, despite a general cap on hiring new staff, three additional posts in the field of mass deacidification have been authorized for the National Library.

These are considerable investments. How could Parliament, in a recession, be persuaded to grant such sums for preservation?

The fate of the project was in part determined by the then-topical controversy concerning the role of Switzerland during the Second World War. The political and historical role of the country was questioned in heated debates, and the Swiss Parliament focused its attention on every political proposal that was even remotely concerned with the historical and cultural heritage.

The project proposal gained importance because of this historical debate. Although the project as a whole was never at issue, some aspects were debated extensively, such as the capacity of the facility and financing. In all, Parliament took a full two years, from fall 1996 to fall 1998, to study the proposal.

Politicians generally proved not to be very receptive to sophisticated arguments for preservation. Financial authorities reacted favorably to clear, pragmatic arguments, and the repetition of easily-remembered figures or simple slogans such as “Switzerland is losing its memory.” The project group was repeatedly asked to confirm that present action was required to avoid vastly greater costs in the future. Thanks to the commitment of the project group, and the Directorates of the Federal Office of Culture and the Swiss Federal Archives in particular, this task of persuasion was accomplished successfully, and the funding for mass deacidification was eventually secured.

Facility and User Policies

The first step toward establishing a user policy was to ascertain the needs of other Swiss institutions that would be potential partners.

Between July 1995 and May 1996, the Swiss National Library and Federal Archives conducted four surveys to establish the deacidification requirements of Swiss libraries and the archives of the Confederation, the cantons, and communities. These institutions showed great interest in treating parts of their holdings. The surveys also confirmed that part of the facility’s capacities would need to be reserved for other customers.

Starting next year, two-thirds of the facility’s annual capacity of 120 metric tons will be devoted to the Swiss National Library and the Federal Archives (40 tons each). The remaining third of the facility will be available at cost to other libraries and archives. This arrangement meets the expectations of numerous cantonal institutions that the Confederation should serve as a navigator in developing and making available modern preservation methods.

Management Concept

The project group conducted preliminary comparative studies concerning management. The pure private industry model was compared with the pure state model. The project group opted for a third way, which might be called the combined concept: The financial plan intends the Swiss Administration to cover all of the facility’s construction costs and to pay the licensing fees to the patent holder for the deacidification process. In other words, the Administration is the owner of the facility. Its operator, however, is a private company, Nitrochemie Wimmis AG, which will operate the facility at its own risk, using its own staff. A detailed contract between the Administration and this private company has been drawn up to clarify issues such as pricing for third parties, updating and extension of the facility, and the transfer of knowledge gained from its operation.

Nitrochemie Wimmis AG is a former Confederation-owned specialized business of the Military Department, privatized in 1996 as a result of massive restructuring in the Swiss Army. It has extensive experience in the field of cellulose chemistry. The facility is located on the company grounds at Wimmis, a small town near Thun, some 40 km. from Berne. By making a one-time investment, the Administration has secured important rights of participation without needing to operate a technically complex facility on its own grounds and with its own personnel. If the first five years of operation prove to be positive, the library and the archives will request follow-on funding.

The licensing negotiations were successfully concluded in February 1999. According to the licensing agreement, it will be possible to treat library and archive holdings from neighboring countries. As the sole exception, material from Germany has not been covered by the license.

Quality Standards

The operating contract established clear quality standards telling the facility operator what results are expected. The standards are expected to satisfy preservation demands, as well as exceed any guarantees of quality that have so far been available on the deacidification market. The deacidification quality has to conform to fifteen criteria which not only concern the fundamental, binding conditions for the deacidification process, but also set down clear, measurable quality criteria, and precisely define the limits for any alterations in the material treated, such as maximum tolerance for color changes in the paper. In any one batch, 95 percent of all the documents must be within these strict standards; deviations may appear in no more than 5 percent.


For a library and an archive to join forces in realizing a mass deacidification facility entails the difficulty of finding the best possible deacidification process that is appropriate for the different materials in an archive or library. Hence, a specialized system for either bound library stocks, or boxed archive material was excluded from the beginning and a compromise has had to be found. Would it not, therefore, have been much better for each institution to have proceeded independently to attain the best possible result for its specific needs?

Our experience has proven that the answer is a resounding “No!” The cooperation resulted in a project of a size and relevance which enabled it to weather the inevitable storms of political debates and financial turmoils. It was because the two largest federally-funded institutions joined forces that the project stood a chance of being realized.

Interested institutions are welcome to contact Susan Herion, Head of Preservation, Swiss National Library, Hallwylstrasse 15, 3003 Berne, Switzerland; Phone: +41 31 322 89 91; Fax: +41 31 322 84 63; E-mail:; or Robert Guyer, Nitrochemie Wimmis AG, Eyfeldweg, 3752 Wimmis, Switzerland; Phone: +41 33 228 13 00.

Contributed by Susan Herion

Memory of the World Draws International Attention to Preservation

UNESCO’s Memory of the World program, coordinated by the Information and Informatics Division in Paris, aims to alert decision makers and the public to the risks facing the world’s documentary heritage and the need to preserve it, while also ensuring the widest possible access to this heritage. A Memory of the World Register has been established under this program, guided by an international advisory committee, drawing the attention of governments, sponsors, and the public to the importance of our collective memory.

Since the program’s inception in 1993, it has achieved a great deal. In addition to supporting individual projects and the Memory of the World Register, it has established General Guidelines to Safeguard Documentary Heritage and commissioned surveys such as “Lost Memory: Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the Twentieth Century.” Most importantly, the program has raised international concern for the world’s cultural heritage and moved it higher on the agenda of many countries.

The program has supported several pilot programs, mainly the creation of digital surrogates of valuable collections. These projects are intended to draw attention to valuable and deteriorating collections and to decrease handling of the originals by providing access to digital copies. The following are among the projects that Memory of the World has funded:

  • Saint Sophia, a multimedia project including Bulgarian manuscripts such as the “Book of Apostolic Epistles of Enina” and illustrations, frontispieces, and decorative motifs;
  • Manuscripts of the Kandilli Observatory, a catalog and CD-ROM of about 1,300 works in astronomy in three languages (Turkish, Persian, and Arabic) held in the library of the Earthquake Research Institute at Bogaziçi University in Istanbul; and
  • Treasures of Dar Al Kutub, A CD-ROM selection of precious manuscripts of the National Library of Cairo.

A complete list of projects appears on Memory of the World’s Web site.

Another important project being done under the auspices of Memory of the World is an inventory of projects to protect documentary heritage. The inventory contains information from more than 200 libraries and archives with collections of national significance. The information collected provides a snapshot of current preservation activities all over the world.

Memory of the World Register

Perhaps the most significant aspect of UNESCO’s concern about the deterioration of our cultural memory is its effort to raise awareness about valuable local, regional, national, and international collections and holdings and, by extension, to issue an appeal to protect and preserve them. The Memory of the World Register was established to achieve this. The decision to create the Register was made by participants at the second International Advisory Committee in Paris, in May 1995. The plan called for the register to list all documentary heritage that the Committee has identified as meeting the selection criteria for world significance, similar in some ways to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It was established that a project’s nomination does not guarantee that it will receive financial support.

Primary criteria for selection include the following:

  • The material must be of international significance and have had major influence on the history of the world, transcending the boundaries of a single national culture.
  • It must reflect in an oustanding way a period of momentous change in world affairs or make an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the world at a particularly important time.
  • It must contain important information about a place that made a crucial contribution to major developments in world history or culture. Complete selection criteria appear on UNESCO’s Web site.

In June 1999, at the fourth meeting of the Advisory Committee held in Vienna, it was evident that the register is not only evolving rapidly, but that the nomination and selection processes are being taken very seriously. Most of the meeting was devoted to deliberations about nominations for inclusion in the register. Whether or not a nomination is accepted, the nomination process itself is extremely valuable. The nominations, submitted to UNESCO’s national commissions, are prepared with care, and organizations in many countries point with pride to valuable collections held locally or regionally. In some cases, it is evident that the process of applying for inclusion in the register awakened interest in a cultural heritage that had not been widely acknowledged even at the local level. The application form includes a section that asks what is being done to preserve the collections. This question alone may spur preservation activities.

One of the recent successful applications for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register was for the Emanuel Ringelblum Archives, a collection of 1,680 archival units (approximately 25,000 pages) retrieved from the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The application lists in detail the preservation actions, storage conditions, and microfilming efforts needed to provide copies of the materials and to ensure that back-up copies of the entire collection exist. It concludes that “thanks to the cooperative efforts of the Jewish Historical Institute Association and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, systematic conservation of the collection has been under way.”

UNESCO’s Memory of the World, led by Abdelaziz Abid, is well-positioned to encourage similar success elsewhere. It is commendable that Memory of the World agreed to an external evaluation in 1997 and has already moved to implement some of the evaluators’ recommendations, such as adding more project staff to the Paris office.

For more information about Memory of the World, including how to nominate projects, the Memory of the World Register, and a guided visit of selected projects, see and click on the Memory of the World logo at the bottom of the home page.

Contributed by Hans Rütimann

News from the ECPA

Raphaël Programme to Fund Cultural Heritage Projects

The European Commission in Brussels has selected projects to receive grants under the 1999 Raphaël Programme for cultural heritage. Fifty-eight of the 438 proposals submitted will receive funding for a total of almost 6.5 million euro. The Raphaël Programme supports the preservation of cultural heritage in many forms, including archaeological sites, monuments, and the visual arts. The list of projects funded includes (1) Urgent-nitrate can’t wait, aimed at the preservation of film archives on nitrate in five countries, (2) a project to digitize 17th-century maps, drawings, and prints of Rome, Stockholm, and Stuttgart, and (3) Terpsychore, a project to create an international network for the preservation of audiovisual records of dance in Europe. A complete list can be found at

This was the final year for the Raphaël programme, which has supported 224 projects over three years. It will be integrated into the Culture 2000 Programme, which will be the sole European Union instrument for cultural activities for the next four years. For more information on the Culture 2000 Programme, see

European Summer School on Preservation Management

From July 19-23, the third European Summer School on Preservation Management took place in London, organized by the Public Record Office and LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherches). The 20 participants attended morning sessions on preservation policies and strategies, environmental control, risk assessment and disaster preparedness, and the preservation considerations of moving a library or archive, whereas the afternoons were taken up by intensive workshops. The session devoted to moving was spent at the British Library, where staff members have extensive firsthand knowledge of the subject, having just completed a move that took three years and was a major achievement in that no books were lost in the process.

A similar event will take place in Finland next June specifically for the Nordic countries, organized by the Center for Microfilming and Preservation at Helsinki University Library and the Federation of Nordic Research Libraries.

European Digitization Conference

From October 21-23, 1999, the Institute for Information Science, Utrecht University, the Netherlands, and Utrecht University Library will hold a conference, “Digitisation of European Cultural Heritage: Products-Principles-Techniques.” Successful digitization projects from European countries will be presented through a series of plenary papers on methodological themes, small group presentations devoted to specific projects, and demonstrations. The organizers decided to devote a conference specifically to continental European projects since “most conferences on digitisation focus on the Anglo-Saxon projects.” Among the speakers are some familiar names from the Anglo-American world. They are expected to engage their continental colleagues in lively debate on shared problems and real and perceived differences. The Minister of Culture of the Netherlands, Rick van der Ploeg, who energetically supports all efforts to open collections with a view to more active cultural participation, has agreed to open the conference. For information, see the conference Web site.

Blue Shield: The Red Cross of Preservation

The Blue Shield is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. It is the symbol specified in the 1954 Hague Convention for marking cultural sites to give them protection from attack in the event of armed conflict. It is also the name of an international committee set up in 1996 to protect the world’s cultural heritage threatened by wars and natural disasters.

The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) covers museums, archives, historic sites, and libraries. It brings together the knowledge, experience and international networks of four organizations: the International Council on Archives (ICA), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). They advise and assist in responding to events such as war in the former Yugoslavia and hurricane damage in Central America. ICBS is international, independent, and professional.

The ICBS works for the protection of the world’s cultural heritage, in particular by:

  • encouraging safeguards and respect for cultural property, and promoting risk preparedness;
  • training experts at national and regional levels to prevent, control, and recover from disasters;
  • facilitating international responses to emergencies threatening cultural property; and
  • cooperating with other bodies including UNESCO, ICCROM, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In recent months, the ICBS has concentrated on two areas of activity: training and the revisions of international law for protecting cultural heritage.

Radenci Declaration

A seminar was held in Radenci, Slovenia, in November 1998, to train personnel to intervene following armed conflict or natural disasters. Participants from 12 countries, drawn from museums, archives, libraries, and historic buildings, spent a week discussing strategies and tactics for dealing with disasters. Case studies on war damage in the former Yugoslavia, flood damage in Poland, earthquake damage in Italy, together with the experiences of military personnel, including a former UN commander in Bosnia, provided the raw material for the seminar, which was aimed at audiences in eastern and southern Europe.

Seminar participants drafted a joint statement, the Radenci Declaration, which called for the following:

  • respect for, and the protection and safeguarding of, cultural property-in both normal and exceptional situations-to be included in national policies and programs;
  • the development of strategies to assess and reduce risk and to improve response capacity in the event of threat to cultural property; and
  • the integration of risk preparedness and management in the activities of institutions caring for the cultural heritage.

New Hague Protocol

The second area of activity of the ICBS has been in the forum of the revision of the Hague Convention. The Convention of 1954 is the main international instrument for protecting cultural heritage in armed conflict and is based on the idea that the preservation of the cultural heritage is not only a matter for the state in which it is located but is of great importance for all peoples of the world. Since 1954 it has been gradually codified by UNESCO, the United Nations agency charged with responsibility for cultural matters, and it has also become linked to the development of humanitarian law, initiated by the Red Cross.

The Convention reflects the experience of the Second World War, a total war between nation states. However, most conflicts since 1945 that have damaged cultural heritage have been of a different type, often taking place at a subnational level.

In recognition of this, and the damage to cultural heritage that has taken place despite the existence of the 1954 Convention, a revision process has been under way since 1993, coordinated by UNESCO and with the active participation of the ICRC. The effort culminated in March 1999 with a diplomatic conference in the Hague, in which participants agreed to a new Protocol offering increased protection and sanctions.

The new Protocol defines the circumstances in which “imperative military necessity” can be claimed as a reason for attacking cultural sites. It redefines the obligations of occupying powers regarding cultural property; creates a new category of exceptional protection to be given to the most important sites and institutions; introduces a range of new and specific war crimes for breaches; and establishes an inter-governmental committee of states to monitor and review the operation of the Convention. The ICBS, together with the ICRC and ICCROM, is given a specific advisory role to this new committee. The recognition of ICBS in the new Protocol is unprecedented, and adds weight to its work on cultural heritage protection in national and international circles.

Future Action – National Blue Shield Committees

It is vital that the international initiative be adopted and supported by local initiatives. Blue Shield Committees are being formed in several countries. Belgium was the first to do so, and discussions are currently under way in other countries, including France, the United Kingdom, and Poland.

National committees can multiply effectiveness by bringing together different professions, local and national governments, emergency services, and the armed forces. They can provide a forum for them to improve emergency preparedness by sharing experiences and exchanging information. They can provide a focus for raising national awareness of the threats to cultural heritage. They can also encourage national governments to ratify and implement the Hague Convention.

One question arises frequently in discussion: does using the Blue Shield symbol help to protect the building or site, or does it, as some recent experience in former Yugoslavia indicates, mark it as a target for hostile forces? While recognizing the danger, the ICBS favors marking, since without it the full protection of international law will not be available to cultural sites and their contents.

An ICBS Web site is being set up. In the meantime the four organizations’ sites carry relevant material:

Information about the Emergency Program for the Protection of Vital Records in the Event of Armed Conflict can be found at:

Contributed by George McKenzie, Deputy Secretary-General, International Council on Archives

Standard for Permanent Paper Reapproved

The International Standard for Permanent paper (ISO 9706), established in 1994, was recently reapproved for the next five years. Ten of the 14 countries voting on the issue favored renewal of the standard without amendment. They were Australia, Denmark, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, and the U. S. The Netherlands abstained.

Canada and Germany voted for a technical revision to remove current restrictions on lignin. (Finland’s vote for a technical revision was for different reasons.)

Unbuffered, the presence of lignin in paper reduces its strength. In 1990, papermakers began to add an alkaline buffer, calcium carbonate, to lignin-containing paper, allowing the paper to keep its strength. But the brightness of this paper declines with exposure to light and heat.

Studies in France, Sweden, and the U.S. have also shown that when the alkaline reserve is used up as a result of storage under extreme conditions over long periods of time, the paper again becomes vulnerable to decay. “These studies point up the fact that an alkaline reserve only . . . buy[s] time for the paper rather than giving it immortality,” according to Abbey Newsletter Editor Ellen McCrady (vol. 23, no.1, 1999).

The ASTM is doing natural and accelerated aging research that will shed light on the long-term effects of lignin in paper that has been stabilized with calcium carbonate, and will inform the debate when ISO 9706 is up for renewal again in 2004.

NEDCC Preservation Manual Available in Spanish on Web
The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) has made a Spanish translation of its publication, Preservation of Library & Archival Materials: A Manual, second edition, available online at The translation was done by the National Library of Venezuela, with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

The manual provides basic, practical information needed to enable non-conservators to plan and implement sound collections care programs. It is one of the few preservation publications written in layman’s language that is an authoritative reference source for up-to-date scientific research. The manual includes sections on planning and setting priorities, the environment, emergency management, storage and handling, reformatting, and conservation procedures. Professional illustrations make the manual easy to understand and use.

Council on Library and Information Resources
1755 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: (202)-939-4765 · E-mail: info@clir.orgThe Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grew out of the 1997 merger of the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Council on Library Resources. CLIR identifies the critical issues that affect the welfare and prospects of libraries and archives and the constituencies they serve, convenes individuals and organizations in the best position to engage these issues and respond to them, and encourages institutions to work collaboratively to achieve and manage change.Preservation and Access International Newsletter seeks to inform readers about preservation and access initatives worldwide and to provide a basis for the direct exchange of ideas and information.Correspondence about this publication should be sent to Kathlin Smith, editor, or to the address shown above.This newsletter is not copyrighted.
Its duplication is encouraged.

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