The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 15
Jul 1978


The AIC Convention

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works held its annual meeting June 1-4 in Fort Worth, Texas About 280 people attended, of whom about 50 were book and paper people. Men and women were about equally represented.

Counting air fare, the rather steep hotel charges, and all expenses, it must have cost each person about $500, but it was stimulating, informative and fun. The schedule of events was rather leisurely, leaving plenty of time for shop talk, which went on everywhere for 4 days, even at the 2 parties the book people threw for themselves and on noisy bus rides. Some people lost their voices temporarily. When you consider that every speaker had 1 or more listeners, and that only 25% to 35% of the occupants of an average room or vehicle were talking at any given moment, a remarkable high decibel level was reached, which can be taken as a rough index of the rate of information transfer.

People were constantly meeting or introducing themselves to people they knew only through the literature, by correspondence or over the telephone, a pleasant experience. The AIC is a young and rapidly growing organization, still in the process of bringing together people who formerly had worked in isolation or without adequate contact with their professional peers.

At the business meeting, Paul Banks of the Newberry Library Conservation Lab was elected president, which is good news for the book and paper people. In his inaugural address he said two challenges lay before the AIC: to improve communication with the people in the government who dealt with conservation matters, and to establish standards. The shortage of teaching conservators was discussed Many universities want to hire conservators and start training programs of their own, but there is a great shortage, and the only way to bring one to a new university is to hire them away from one where they are already teaching. As it is, the established schools are short of staff--and of equipment, space and funds.

It was interesting to see the large number of people from granting agencies, who were looking for people to give their money to. There was a catch, of course: you had to deserve it. But apparently a lot of government money has become available in recent years, not only for museum conservators, but for book and paper conservation too. Money is there for setting up labs, training conservators, tackling specific restoration projects, and for ongoing expenses.

Matilda Wells, from the Smithsonian Institution, gave some interesting advice to museum conservators seeking grants, which made good sense and should apply to book and paper conservation as well, (Her program funds training of museum personnel, special studies and research, and services for the profession,) She said that applicants should document their familiarity with the current state of the art, This strongly implies that they should be published, either in internally circulated research reports in their institution, or, preferably, in professional journals They should collaborate with their colleagues in their work and reporting of the results, to keep in touch with the field, she said Although this is sometimes hard to do, it "pays off", presumably not only by increasing chances of getting a grant, but by increasing the quality of the work and helping the professional growth of the individual applicant.

Conservators looking for government support were also advised to upgrade their operations through professional activities. This, by the way, may be hard to do. Employers are often reluctant to release conservators from their immediate duties, according to a 1977 survey of AIC members by Barbara Beardsley, reported in AIC Newsletter for Feb. 1978. Out of 160 respondents, "152 people wanted to attend refresher courses in their specialties. 136 need extra money for transportation and housing, not for fees . , . . The people who seem to be most in need of this transportation and housing money were conservators salaried at institutions, Private conservators stated that they would take whatever time was necessary and available to attend courses in their specialty, whereas many of their institutional colleagues stated that they were restricted by their institutions to usually less than 5 days off for this type of thing and that often those 5 days included Annual AIC Meeting,"

The 6 professional papers of interest to book and paper people were of variable quality, Of these 6, only 3 related to book restoration and none had to do with binding as such. The most solid contribution was an up-to-the-minute report of research on mass deacidification of books with diethyl zinc, presented by George B. Kelly of the Library of Congress Preservation Office, where the process was developed. The abstract of the preprint reads, "Mass deacidification with diethyl zinc vapor was accomplished safely and without serious difficulty on a 400-book scale. Treated books and maps had a pH of about 7,5 and contained 1 to 3% ZnO. The process cycle took about 8 days. Air and moisture must be excluded in the process. No detrimental effects on map colors, paper, leather, vinyl or pyroxylin were noted, and paper life is extended nearly fourfold in accelerated aging tests The process appears feasible on a commercial scale, The preliminary cost estimate is about $5.00/book on a 5000-book scale, not including transportation,"

From the podium Mr. Kelly announced that the price was now estimated to be $2.40-$3,00 per book. This is for deacidification in large batches at GE's walk-in vacuum chamber at their space center at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. (A person to contact there is Dick Schulberg, 215-962-4008.) The chamber holds about 5000 books and the process takes 5 or 6 days, plus 1 day each for loading and unloading,

The reason they have to use a vacuum chamber is that diethyl zinc vapor is extremely explosive in the presence of any moisture at all, so they have to dry the books out completely first in a vacuum over a period of 2 or 3 days, removing even the water chemically bound to the cellulose (In the question and answer period afterward, Paul Banks inquired whether the book's structure or paper strength was damaged by the removal of water, and Mr. Kelly said it wasn't; when quite dry, he said, the pages cockled, but the cockling disappeared when the book was remoisturized.)

It takes a long time to process the books because ethane, a reaction product, is trying to get out at the same time the diethyl zinc is trying to get in. Since penetration is such a problem, they have to load the books rather loosely and give it a lot of time. When the reactions are all complete, each book is a little heavier than it was to start with because now it contains zinc oxide, distributed so evenly throughout the book that it can't be detected even with an electron microscope. Since zinc oxide is a fungicide, the book is also unlikely ever to mold. The process is reversible: the zinc oxide deposit can be removed with dilute acetic acid.

Other mass deacidification processes are in various stages of development ranging through patent procurement and small-scale trials to the ongoing program. Not all of them can be used for leather-bound books, but there are enough cloth-bound books needing deacidification to keep all facilities fully engaged until the Day of Judgement.

Now that it is finally becoming possible for libraries to make a choice in the marketplace for permanent books (or books made permanent after publication) over self-destructing books, to which we have been condemned for too long, perhaps publishers will finally have the facts and market figures they need for courage to produce a permanent book to start with. Already there are hopeful signs in this direction, which will be reported in this Newsletter.

The highlight of the convention for the book people was a short 2-hour event on the last day. Tables were set up to display and allow handling and discussion of 1) Gary Frost's and Linda McWilliams' glueless bindings, 2) Charles Brandt's applications of a flexible shaft sanding drum to bookbinding operations, 3) boxes of various sorts from the Library of Congress, the Newberry Library Bindery, and other places, with written formulas, standards and instructions, 4) James Dast's encapsulations in book format, and 5) Jeff Rigby's collection of documentation forms (instruction and record forms regarding treatment of books and documents).

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