The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 4
Sep 1983


The Yale Survey

The most detailed large-scale condition survey yet made in any U.S. library is nearing completion. The books have been surveyed, but the report is not yet in final form. Certain things can be said about it at this stage, however, on the basis of a preliminary release.

Thirteen kinds of information relating to physical condition were gathered for a random sample of books from 15 libraries in Yale's library system. The Sterling Memorial Library was in a class by itself with three million volumes. The three next largest collections are each close to 1/2 million in size; for them, the sample size was no more than 0.5% of the total. The smallest collections had larger samples proportionally: 5% or 10%. The sample size was adjusted in order to make as many as possible of the figures in the tabulated results statistically significant. Since the analysis correlates two and sometimes three variables for the books in each library (e.g. country and decade of publication, and brittleness), care was taken to include enough books in the larger sample to get meaningful results. If the final results did not show enough examples in a given cell in a table, those results were not reported. As a result, not all the percentages add up to 100, and uncommon types of bindings (e.g. vellum and acid-free pamphlet bindings) do not appear in the tabulations.

The information recorded for each volume and appearing in the tabulations is as follows:

Circulating or Noncirculating

Primary protection type: Rigid, Limp or Acidic pamphlet

Primary protection condition: Intact or Not intact

Joint covering: Cloth, Paper or Leather (The material covering the joint was taken as the criterion for deciding whether a book was bound in cloth, paper or leather.)

Leaf attachment type: Sewn-thru-fold, Over/cleat sewn, Stabbed, or Adhesive

Leaf attachment condition: Intact or Not intact

Text condition: Intact or Not intact

Brittle: Does not break, Breaks 4 folds, or Breaks 2 folds

pH above 5.4 or Below 5.4 (Bromocresol green was used as an indicator)

Gutter margin: 1 cm or more, or Less than 1 cm

Mutilated: No or Yes

Environmental damage: No or Yes

Repair needed: No or Yes

The 15 libraries differed widely from each other on all of the variables. On over half the variables, the highest percentages were over eight times as great as the lowest. Only 1% of the Geology Library books, but 38% of the Art Library books, had limp covers; similarly, leather covers ranged from 0% to 9% of each collection; 0% to 35% of the books in each library had paper too brittle to survive two folds; and 50% to 95% of the books in each library were very acid.

An examination of the figures for brittleness and acidity shows that acid pages are not always brittle, but brittle pages are very likely to be acid. This is consistent with the generally recognized role of acidity as an important factor, but not the only one, in paper deterioration.

An article is being prepared for publication, and an expanded form of what will appear in the article, including more information on the environment, will be available at a later date from the library.

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