The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 6, Number 6
Dec 1982


TLA Conference Report: Conclusion

There was not enough room in the November supplement ("Current Trends: Notes from Two Recent Conferences") to report the facts, principles and advice passed on by the speakers at the April 1982 Theatre Library Association Conference in Washington, DC, so that section was postponed until this issue.

None of the material that follows has been independently verified, and none of it has been submitted to the speaker before printing. Everything is quoted without attribution, to make it possible to give an idea of current trends without spending an inordinate amount of tine. The speakers are listed in the supplement, all 43 of them, and can be contacted through this office for more information in their area. [The Theatre Library Association's address is not at hand at the moment.]

Facts, Principles and Advice

"I do not support conservation work on photographs." We should only provide copies for reference, and store the originals in a good environment.... The light level in the stacks should be at 15 foot candles or less, and the lights should be turned on only when necessary.... When setting up your preservation program, plan to have part of it be in-house and part contracted out.' In the first phase, improve environmental conditions; in the second, improve storage conditions. In the third, provide remedial conservation for items needing it, and in the fourth, full conservation.... Shelve books by size-- never on the foredge. Proper shelving is one of the most cost-effective measures you can take.... Store microfilm in good boxes at a low temperature, and 35-40% relative humidity. As guides, use the ANSI standards, NHPRC guidelines and the LC specs.... Now they use rubber stamps on their clippings to indicate the source and date, with blue ink, on the front so it will be legible when copied. Small clippings are mounted. Clipping services paste them onto "head paper" which rots faster than the newspaper. An ownership stamp is fine because it discourages theft. It can go on the back.

Exhibit for three months maximum, at a maximum of 10 foot candles (five for more sensitive material). Question: How does one get management to stop exhibiting valuable material for too long and under damaging conditions? Answer #1: Find someone they respect, with weight and power, to write a letter; follow it up with a consultancy. Answer #2: The Director won't listen if it comes from someone on the staff, but an outsider will be listened to.

Store color film (prints, movies, transparencies, negatives) at a constant temperature and humidity: 35-40° and below 30% RH. Store black and white film at 500 and 50% RH.

Never give researchers the master videotape. Store them at 65-70°, 35-45% RH. Fluctuations in humidity are the biggest cause of the binder breaking down. Don't lay them in the window. Use standard brands--stay with Fuji, Ampex and 3M. Stay away from the white box. For security use locks and intrusion signals. Protect from fire; they do burn. Sprinklers are bad but CO2 and Halon are probably OK. Store them vertically in cases. Forbid eating, drinking and smoking in rooms with videotapes. Rewind from one end to the other in the play cycle without stopping. 3M has a sticky tape for the free end that leaves no sticky residue. Cleanliness and careful hand- ling are important. Avoid vibration and the magnetic effect of drills, vacuums and TV sets. Rewind and inspect every three years.

The preservation of sound recordings is easy: use common sense and the same principles you use for paper and photographs. Sources of information are I) a guide by Jerry McWilliams, published by the AASLH, 2) the Technical Committee of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections, and 3) a guide by the Public Archives of Canada.

Question: What to do about nitrate film? Answer:

Contact the American Film Institute (in Washington, DC). Only 35 mm movie film is nitrate; this is a little less than 2" wide. If it smells, that is a sign of something. Don't keep it in the house or destroy it in quantities. Nitrate was never used for microfilm but it was used for X-rays and still photos. Still photos deteriorate more slowly because of their format.

Don't display encapsulated items vertically for more than a few weeks--they slip down within the encapsulation.

Files should be organized around the institution generating them (agent, theater, etc.) rather than the subject (John Barrymore, method acting, etc.).... After you have gotten your priorities straight, think about getting money to implement them. You can usually get funding if you are clear about your goals, if you have a coherent work plan generally accepted by your profession, and if you employ properly trained personnel.

The chief cause of damage to functional objects is fire. Sprinkler systems should be considered more often; at least they are better than fire hoses.... Conservation services are easy to get, and are cheap when compared with other routine expenditures in a museum. Conservation expenses should be considered routine and necessary. To find someone, ask the AIC, a regional center or a local lab for help.

The AASLH has put out a dictionary of nomenclature for cataloging of manmade items (1978) and a Handbook for Care of Local Collections (1972).

Don't store printed materials with photographs. If you can't keep the humidity under 70%, use paper envelopes instead of plastic enclosures. The best storage for photographs is horizontal, especially if they are weak or large. If file drawers are used, rigid dividers should be inserted to keep the filed material from slumping. But glass plate negatives should be stored vertically, each in its own enclosure.

Question: How can you tell if a conservator is qualified? Answer: Ask for their resume. They will belong to the professional association, and the résumé will show where they were trained. Call up their references. Also you could call up two or three conservation centers and ask if anybody ever heard of them.

Preservation costs prior to donating material to an archive or library can be written off. A source of information on this is the Library of Congress Exchange and Gift Office.

Some photocopy machines give a good copy of encapsulated material, but others do not because the light angle produces a glare from the polyester.

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