Summary

This report presents an overview of recent research in the preservation of three information carriers: paper, film and photo-graphic materials, and magnetic tape. It covers significant developments internationally over the last five years and concentrates on emerging technologies that have the potential for large-scale application. For each information carrier and for the materials in general, the research items are listed in three categories: decay, treatment, and storage. The research items are ordered alphabetically within each category. The major limitations of the survey-the availability and accessibility of relevant information-and recommendations for follow-up activities are noted in the introductory sections to the report.

With respect to paper, the preservation science overview emphasizes the following topics: accelerated aging, indoor air pollution, ink corrosion, techniques to monitor the degradation process, methods of disinfection, laser cleaning, and mass deacidification. For film and photographic materials, the report emphasizes stability and risk assessment of nitrate and acetate film, the vinegar syndrome, studies concerning daguerreotypes, and climate control. For magnetic tape, life-expectancy studies and quality standards are emphasized. Topics relating to materials in general include indoor air pollution, disinfection by oxygen reduction, and climate conditions and standards.

The final chapter summarizes current trends and knowledge gaps in preservation science. There is a clear shift in preservation research toward large-scale passive conservation. Research has increasingly become integrated into preservation policy and management, and there is now greater emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches, multilateral cooperation, and preservation funding and education. With regard to the study of paper deterioration, the focus of paper preservation research has shifted from hydrolytic to oxidative degradation processes. Finally, especially in Europe, there has been less research on the preservation of film, photos, and magnetic tape than there has on paper preservation.

The following areas emerged as needing special attention: research into the active conservation of individual artifacts, standardization of accelerated-aging tests, effects of solvents and solvent residues, further development of nondestructive microanalytical tools to monitor degradation, side effects of large-scale scanning of original materials, standards for paper deacidification and the required testing procedures, determination of the life expectancy of magnetic tape, and elucidation of typical non-Western conservation problems. Finally, the importance of an optimal interface between preservation science and conservation practice and policy is stressed.

Objectives

The multitude of preservation research activities being carried out worldwide indicates an international awareness of the need for scientific tools to tackle the problem of degradation of the world’s cultural heritage. Many researchers and research institutes are making efforts to supply conservators and restorers of archival and library materials with properly tested means to treat individual artifacts as well as with techniques for mass conservation. Research is providing new insights into why and how objects deteriorate and is informing the development of new active and passive (preventive) conservation procedures.

One drawback to preservation-directed scientific enterprise is the lack of an easily accessible overview of all the activities. In the absence of such an overview, there is a risk that research activities may be duplicated, or that decisions about conservation practice may be uninformed. In addition, a good overview is needed by those who are seeking suitable partners with whom to set up joint research projects. Finally, such a document may serve as a guide for funding organizations that are establishing criteria for project support.

For these reasons, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR, Washington, D.C.) requested the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The National Library of the Netherlands (KB, The Hague) to prepare a preservation science overview. CLIR formulated the objectives and scope of this project in consultation with the KB.

This report is intended to give the preservation community an overview of the most significant preservation science research that has been conducted in the last five years. The primary focus is developments in Australia, Europe, and North America. The target audience includes policy makers, library directors, archivists, chief librarians for preservation, preservation administrators, curators, preservation specialists, and conservation scientists. The survey focuses on developments in methods for preserving analog materials held by libraries and archives on paper, film, and magnetic tape. The report does not address the preservation of digital data or of optical media. It concentrates on emerging technologies that have the potential for broad application, rather on those that are relevant to only a subset of library and archival materials. The final section of the report is intended as a critical evaluation of the survey and an attempt to indicate areas in greatest need of further research.

Setup and approach

To facilitate the systematic collection and arrangement of data, the survey authors created a matrix covering the specific materials in question-paper, film and photographic materials, and magnetic tape. A fourth field was included for information on library and archival materials of a more general nature. The preservation science activities for each type of material were divided into three categories: decay (cause and mechanism of degradation); treatment (active conservation); and storage (passive conservation, damage prevention).

In gathering information, the survey investigators relied primarily on collections and databases of specialist literature, on data from the Internet, and on interviews with researchers and staff of research institutes. The amount of material that could be gathered was limited by the fact that the required information was not always readily available, or accessible. Another limitation was the willingness and ability of the researchers and research institute staff to provide the requested information in a usable format and on time. Because of these inherent limitations, the work of individuals and institutes that actively disseminate information and that take part in the international preservation science community dominates this overview.

The survey focuses on research done in Australia, Europe, and North America. The investigators do not wish to imply that significant research is not being done elsewhere. The challenges of gathering comprehensive information in several languages, and from great distances, argue in favor of creating an international database of preservation science research to which scientists everywhere can contribute.

Outline and outlook

Chapters 2-5 of this report present an overview of preservation science activities. Paper is the first material discussed; it is followed by film and photographic materials, magnetic tape, and general (other materials). Under each of these major divisions, the research items in each of the preservation science categories-decay, treatment, and storage-are presented in alphabetical order. The data included in the overview present the main aspects of the preservation science activity in question, including the names of the research institutes and scientists involved; the background, goals, and main results of the research performed; and references to crucial publications. Chapter 6 outlines research trends and knowledge gaps identified in the process of preparing this overview. The appendixes include the names and institutional affiliations of the individuals mentioned in the report, and an index of projects undertaken by each institution.

This survey offers only a snapshot of what is going on in the complex field of preservation science. Expanding this overview and converting it into a lasting and up-to-date instrument for research and policy would require that it be continued on a more structured basis. The best means to do so would be through the creation of an electronic database. The idea of such a database has not been broadly discussed, and its construction and maintenance would be a tremendous effort. Its viability would depend on the response from the field and prospective participants’ willingness to cooperate in such a venture.