This survey has highlighted several new developments in preservation science research. Here, the most notable trends are described and several areas are proposed for special attention.
Shift to large-scale, passive conservation
Preservation science is moving steadily away from the investigation of individual artifacts and individual conservation problems. This trend, which began in the 1980s with large-scale studies such as the Swedish FoU-projektet för papperskonservering (Fellers et al 1989) and the European Commission’s STEP project on the effects of air pollutants (Havermans et al 1994), continues today. More and more, the scientific research is tuned to large-scale, national, or international preservation activities.
At the same time, preservation managers are becoming more interested in passive measures than in active conservation and are often limiting real treatment and restoration to a very small part of their collections. Consequently, current preservation science concentrates more on damage prevention (e.g., storage conditions) than on the development of new or improved conservation techniques. An example is integrated pest management, a current approach to preventing pest infestation. Integrated pest management involves assessment of acceptable pest-population sizes, monitoring of pest populations, identification and implementation of control methods, and evaluation of all actions taken. The literature on this subject is growing rapidly (Jessup 1997; Trinkley 1997).
Parallel to the trend toward passive conservation, financial constraints limit research that is aimed primarily at individual items or small parts of a collection. Recent funding for research has favored large-scale activities that are intended to prevent damage to the original (this includes digitization and microfilming, which can limit use of, and therefore damage to, the original). The trend toward passive conservation is bolstered by reactions to “mistakes” in previously performed treatments.
Integration and cooperation in preservation management
Research has become an integral part of preservation policy and of management in general. Aware that there is “no access without preservation,” collection keepers have recognized the need to make reliable diagnoses of the physical condition (life expectancy) of their holdings. This implies, for preservation science, increased attention to the scientific elaboration of damage-survey techniques, especially with respect to the required physicochemical test methodology (Hofenk de Graaff 1999). In this regard, a promising approach under the name Universal Procedure for Archive Assessment (UPAA) has been developed recently (Havermans et al 1999b). There is a great need for standards and control tools for storage conditions, selection procedures for reformatting, and conservation treatment priorities. The evaluation of the reformatting or treatment procedures themselves, combined with the development of these standards and tools, represents a full agenda for preservation science. It also induces scientists from different disciplines to work together.
The key words in preservation policy today are interdisciplinary approach, multilateral cooperation and legislation, funding, and education. Projects under way in the different programs of the European Union, in which many countries work together on a specific research theme, have shown that international, large-scale cooperation in scientific research is possible. At the same time, the programs are demonstrating cooperation between public institutions and private companies. A good example is the European “Safeguarding European Photographic Images for Access” (SEPIA) project. In it, eight European organizations have agreed to (1) promote awareness of the need to preserve photographic collections, (2) train professionals involved in the preservation and digitization of photographic collections, and (3) develop a framework under which future projects in the area of preservation and access of photographic materials can be brought together (Klijn and de Lusenet 2000).
From hydrolysis to oxidation
Although several questions about acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of paper remain unanswered, the established mass-deacidification techniques appear to have led to a common confidence that the problem of acid paper has been solved. That is why the emphasis of preservation research is shifting toward paper-deterioration processes involving oxidation. Ink corrosion and photo oxidation are the current favorite subjects of basic research, while new treatment procedures based on antioxidants are being developed.
Backlog of film, photo, and tape preservation research
The field of film, photo, and magnetic tape preservation does not have the well-established tradition in conservation treatment that paper does. The gap in research between paper preservation and film, photo, and tape preservation is more pronounced in Europe than in North America, but it is notable on both continents. For magnetic tape, the gap is even greater than for film and photographic materials. The relative lack of experience and gap in knowledge stems from the fact that nonprint materials are newer. Although there is a will to catch up these arrears, the conservation of non-print artifacts is still in its infancy, and until now the “solutions” have been mainly based on reformatting. If the current trend to reformat analog information into digital form slows efforts to preserve the original materials, the physical forms of film, photographs, and tape may soon be completely lost by the continuing process of deterioration.
In the case of magnetic tape, digitization is considered the only means by which to preserve the recorded content, anddigital mass-storage systems are now installed in radio and national sound archives. In fact, most of the financial resources for tape conservation are put into digital preservation.
Success in preserving audiovisual materials is highly dependent on the extent to which media manufacturers are willing to provide information about their products. The composition of most of the constituent materials is considered an industrial secret. Therefore, it is almost impossible to determine the life expectancy of a given audiovisual carrier. The development of archival qualities does not yet seem to be of commercial interest. Industrial research on and development of the audiovisual materials continue, especially projects that focus on miniaturization and the improvement of performance and storage capacity. Factors such as permanence and durability, however, are neglected. (One exception is the development of preservation microfilm).
All of this makes it very hard for conservation scientists to fully understand the materials involved and to give proper advice to preservation managers. This is especially true for research on magnetic tape. There is a Canadian initiative, however, that offers promise. It promotes the development of standards that would require manufacturers of videotape and optical-disk hardware to notify archivists as to when their products will be discontinued and how to migrate them without content loss. Zwaneveld argues for a standard in which the date of discontinuation (end-of-life year) of a tape or disk is stated clearly. This would allow for the creation of asset-management databases that would inform the archivist or curator when it is time to migrate the content of the tape or disk to another carrier (Zwaneveld 2000).
The following areas merit particular attention in the near future:
- The increased focus of preservation science on large-scale damage-prevention measures comes at the expense of research into the active conservation of individual artifacts. It is causing a growing gap in that knowledge and insight that will eventually threaten our ability to safeguard our cultural heritage.
- Further research is needed on the applicability of accelerated aging and into the standardization of aging tests. Whereas accelerated-aging tests are often carried out to make prognoses, e.g., to calculate life expectancy or quantify the effects of conservation treatments, the predictive value of these tests is still seriously questioned.
- The use of solvents is well established in the practice of conservation, and they are commonly applied to remove glue and self-adhesive tape. Nevertheless, research into the effects of solvents on the materials themselves is insufficient. Two questions arise: How much of the solvent remains in the treated material? How harmful is this residue? These questions need to be answered.
- Development of nondestructive microanalytical tools to determine the condition of paper, photographs, and other materials has just begun. These new tools can be very useful in assigning priority to objects for conservation treatment. In addition, by providing an alternative means of monitoring natural aging effects, they circumvent the need to use the questionable approach of accelerated aging. Further research into microanalytical techniques should be stimulated.
- In this era of digitization, there is growing concern about the possible negative influence of the electromagnetic radiation applied in the process of scanning original material. Preservation research into this matter is needed. In addition, the risk of damage to artifacts by handling during scanning deserves more attention. In this context, it must also be noted that the increased accessibility of collections in digitized form appears to stimulate, rather than prevent, the demand to consult the original objects.
- Although mass deacidification has been incorporated into general conservation practice, the treatment criteria remain uncertain. In addition to the lack of standardized procedures to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the deacidification treatment, an important question is how much alkaline reserve is needed in the paper. Another question is whether the introduction of an excess of alkaline compounds will cause adverse effects (i.e., stimulation of oxidation). Research is needed to improve our insight and to establish agreement on proper treatment standards and testing procedures.
- The great problem in the preservation of magnetic tape is the lack of knowledge about which tapes will be the first to deteriorate beyond the point at which they can be salvaged. Such knowledge is a prerequisite for setting up a successful preservation and transfer strategy; in its absence, priorities cannot be set and a great deal of material will be lost. Life-expectancy testing is the most important and demanding challenge in this field. Although already indicated as a general area of attention, the questions regarding the use of accelerated aging for the purpose of determining permanence apply to magnetic tape in particular.
- To some degree, developing countries suffer from threats to their cultural heritage that are different from those in Western countries. Extreme temperatures and relative humidity often cause large-scale infestation of country-specific insects, fungi, and molds. In addition, non-Western written traditions, including the writing materials, are often different from Western ones. Although individual governments and multilateral institutions (e.g., Paul Getty Conservation Institute, UNESCO Memory of the World Program) give support and aid, it is usually according to Western preservation strategies. National programs for preservation, including specific research projects, are being established. Care should be taken not to impose our solutions to Western conservation problems on developing countries. Instead, preservation research should aim at a better understanding of typical non-Western conservation problems.
- A final issue is the role of the conservation scientist as an interpreter between science and conservation. The interface between preservation science and conservation practice is essential. The results of preservation science have to be translated and disseminated in order to be usable in conservation management and policy. However wonderful the discoveries of the conservation scientists are, these individuals will have wasted their time if they fail to communicate these advances to conservators and preservation administrators.