The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 4
Sep 1983


Highlights of the AIC Conference

by Ellen McCrady

The meetings of the American Institute for Conservation offer richer fare every year for book and paper conservators. This year there were so many relevant papers and events, both in the general sessions and in the various specialty group sessions, that it is impossible to cover them all adequately here, just as it was impossible then to attend everything one wanted to--an embarrassment of riches.

The Book and Paper Specialty Group publishes its own proceedings and plans to include in this year's volume some papers that were not delivered at the meeting--which will make it almost a journal. No group presently publishes its papers in the AIC Preprints, which are given beforehand to each registered participant. As a result, no specialty group papers are available yet, unless the speaker chose to hand Out copies at the time.

The B&P Specialty Group sponsored an all-day Cellulose Symposium with the cooperation of the Institute of Paper Chemistry. Most of it seemed to be a bit too technical for the audience, but C. Eugene Cain's introductory paper on "The Chemical Basis for the Structure of Cellulose" was clear without being watered down, and went a long way toward enabling listeners to understand what followed.

Cain also gave a paper on the chemical nature of lignin. He contrasted it to cellulose in his opening paragraph, as follows:

Cellulose is

highly ordered and crystalline,
made of duplicate repeating units linked head-to-tail,
formed into ribbon-like chains,
held in definite orientation by hydrogen bonds.

Lignin is

random and amorphous,
made of repeating units variously linked,
cross-linked into a 3-D mass,
held together by a variety of carbon-carbon and carbon-oxygen covalent bonds.

Most if not all of the speakers had handouts. Helen Burgess gave two talks, on the "Chemistry of Cellulose Degradation" and "Chemical Analysis of Paper," both of which were comprehensive overviews, with lists of references grouped under major headings at the end.

The room was packed for the Symposium, partly because so many people had registered for it, and partly because so many more came who had not registered. (Admission tickets had been issued but were not collected at the door.) Tim Vitale, who was chairing, noticed at one point that there were obviously more people in the room than there ought to be, and urged the crashers to examine their consciences and not to occupy a seat if they hadn't paid. A number of people did pay afterwards.

The B&P Specialty Group meeting came three days later in this five-day conference. It too was a well-attended day-long affair chaired by Tim Vitale, who again had to speak up in the interest of paid-up members when he saw the danish rolls on the refreshments table being decimated by nonmembers. The meeting began with a panel on deacidification, made up of panel members Cathy Baker, Lois Price, Mary Todd Glaser, Paul Banks, Randall Couch and Robert Futernick. All of them tried (seldom with 100% success) to replace the term "deacidification" with more exact terms like "neutralization" and "alkaline reserve" in their own presentations.

Cathy Baker advised washing paper in solvent before treating with a nonaqueous deacidification solution, Lois Price distinguished several types of "deacidification." At CCAHA, where she works, they use three main types: a wash with calcinated deionized water, an alkaline wash that leaves little or no reserve, and a wash that does leave an alkaline reserve. Mary Todd Glaser described the still unsolved problem of controlling the amount of magnesium carbonate deposited in paper during aqueous deacidification. She also recommended inserting a label or slip into each encapsulation stating whether the item inside has been washed or deacidified.

Paul Banks reviewed the managerial problems of mass deacidification, including capital investment, turnaround time, and sorting out books beforehand. "When this becomes a common procedure," he said, "I hope you will mark each book to show the treatment used." Randall Couch brought up the long-simmering controversy over the relative merits of calcium and magnesium solutions for deacidification. (This issue was later addressed, inconclusively, by Ira Block, Robert Futernick, Lois Price, Mary Todd Glaser and others in the discussion period.) Robert Futernick advised reimmersion of deacidified papers in plain carbonated water to remove visible surface deposits of magnesium carbonate.

One of the first questions in the discussion period following these presentations was from a librarian who wanted to know why conservators couldn't get these matters straight among themselves. Robert Futernick replied, "Most psychiatrists have to see other psychiatrists; that's what we're doing. We're all in training."

Following the panel, and running until about 6:30, two talks and eight papers were given. Richard Smith's talk outlined the history of deacidification since 1936 and reviewed quality control in the use of his nonaqueous solutions. Six of the papers had single authors: those of Don Sebera (diethyl zinc), Robert Parliament (a spraying setup), William K, Wilson (a submitted paper on accelerated aging and a brief talk on deacidification topics), Marjorie Shelley (Rembrandt's inks), Konstanze Bachmann (transparent papers), C. Eugene Cain (degradation products), and Deborah Evetts (book treatment). Two papers had multiple authors. Four Library of Congress conservators presented "Pressure Sensitive Tape: Its History and Removal" and Lynn Jones, Barbara Meier-James and Glen Ruzicka presented "New Developments in Polyester Book Structures." Anyone with a sealing machine, by the way, should read about the new Remay hinge for polyester books. Most if not all of these papers should appear in the published proceedings sometime before next year's meeting.

Cassette tapes of these papers can be ordered at any time from Cassette Recording Co., which takes its mail orders at the following address: do Huntington National Bank, Dept. L-270, Columbus, OH 43260. (It is actually located at 399 Arcade Square, Dayton, OH 45402, tel. 513/ 223-5380, having moved from its office in the Third National Building.) They have a price list for tapes of the whole conference, which they will send on request.

In the general session, Charles Brandt described the Manitoba Archives' fumigator/freeze dryer, custom designed for the safest possible use of ethylene oxide; Ursula Dreibholz described the flattening and other preliminary work done on the 20,000 early manuscripts recently discovered in Yemen; and Helen Burgess and Carmen Charette reported the findings of their tests of various fixatives for fugitive colors. All three papers are in the AIC

Preprints, which are available from the AIC office for $17.

There were poster sessions too, at which the display on preservation enclosures for books, by Hedi Kyle and Virginia Wisniewski-Klett, attracted attention even from people not in book or paper conservation. Viewers were allowed to handle the models, which were ingenious and esthetically pleasing.

There was a session of five papers given by conservation students; it too is available on tape. These five had been selected from papers presented in early May at the annual "Student Conference" given this year at Cooperstown. Two of the five papers dealt with paper conservation. Paul Rabin, who is also a stamp collector, spoke on conservation of postage stamps; Pia DeSantis spoke on the use of protease in paper conservation. Cathy Baker, a member of the teaching staff at Cooperstown, is editing the papers given at the student conference. They are expected to be in print by the end of this year. Write the publisher for price and date of publication: Department of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, P.O. Box 71, Cooperstown, NY 13326. (The school, by the way, became a graduate department of SUNY at Buffalo in July, but will stay where it is for another two years.)

This year there were interesting papers too in the Photographic Conservation group (e.g., one on the destructive effect of lignified board on albumen and gelatin emulsions, but not on collodion emulsions), and the Object Conservation group (a report on the activities of the leather interest group formed last year). Neither session was taped.

The special general session on effects of common fumigants is reported in the supplement to this issue; a general panel presentation on computerization focussed on access to bibliographic information, and mostly addressed the needs of museums, which are trying to catch up with libraries in this field. Part of the presentation dealt with the planned activities of the Getty Trust, reported in the last issue of this Newsletter.

A group of 15 or 20 book and paper conservators met informally one evening to explore the possible role of computers in their field--for collection surveys, a common bank of conservation records, retrieval of bibliographic information, retrieval of stolen books, and possibly other uses. Most of the uses that were mentioned are actual rather than potential, but the general feeling was that the potential of the computer in this field has barely begun to be tapped. Suggestions and requests for a record of this meeting should go to Deborah Evetts, Pierpont Morgan Library, 29 East 36th St., New York, NY 10016.


To know and practice a craft lends greater culture than half-knowledge a hundred times over.

--Goethe, as quoted in Goethe's World View by F, Ungar (NY, 1963), p. 16.

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