The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 8, Number 6
Dec 1984


SAA Conference Highlights

by Ellen McCrady

The Society of American Archivists met from August 30 to September 3 in Washington, D.C. I missed the Archives open house on August 31, but attended several sessions September 1 and 2. As always, I feel intimidated by the task of reporting a whole conference, or even two days of it. So much has to be left out--all I can say is, "You really bad to be there."

Fumigation Panel

Three methods were discussed: freezing, gamma radiation and ethylene oxide (EtO). Gisela Noack described bow Yale University froze 37,000 books in 1978 to halt an infestation of five insects, the worst of which was the death watch beetle. The books were bagged, sealed and frozen at -28°F for three days. According to a 1936 Ph.D. thesis at the University of Minnesota (Reginald H. Salt, "Cold Sterilization of Insect Pests"), a temperature of

-27°F gets them all if the temperature drop is rapid. However, it does not got fungus, which has to be killed with a separate procedure.

Nancy McCall gave the history of Johns Hopkins' use of gamma radiation for a large donation of archival material with massive infestation. Mary Ballard of the Smithsonian's Conservation Analytical Lab discussed risks and results with EtO. Now that EtO has become so expensive to do safely ($10,000 to $20,000 must be invested just to meet the standards), many institutions have abandoned its use.

Panel on Photographic Reproduction

Gary Saretsky reported his research on the effect of electrostatic copying on photographic prints. He cut Lest photographs in two, copied one of the halves 300 times on a Kodak copier, then aged both parts and compared them using a densitometer to detect fading. Result: no significant differences. Although some machines emit ozone, copies do reduce wear on the original. The light exposure is measured in millionths of a second. His advice: proceed with reasonable caution. Consider not copying very sensitive or valuable material; do no unnecessary copying; handle the original carefully, using gloves or sleeves; and if the collection or photograph is used -frequently, make copies to copy.

Andy Raymond of the Northeast Document Conservation Center spoke on methods of negative duplication. He said fires cause losses but don't compare with loss from ordinary deterioration. At NDCC they copy entire collections, using a large format copy camera like a microfilm camera to make interpositives, which are then used as the archival copy because they are chemically more stable than the negatives they replace. They do not use Kodak's SO 015 direct duplicating film (which makes a negative from a negative) because it is still controversial and hard to use. NDCC is preparing an administrative guide on preservation microfilming.

In the question and answer period, Ken Marsh of the National Archives recommended that archivists not look -for photographic conservators yet because they won't be able to find any. Instead hire a paper conservator and a photographic technician.

Panel on the State of the Art of Conservation

Alan Calmes explained the National Archives' 20-year preservation plan and current policies on choice of treatment:

Lamination is hard to reverse, so they copy instead. Microfilming is so expensive and time-consuming that they only use it for heavily-used material. They did a cost-benefit study and concluded it would take seven times as much money to film material as to preserve it in its present form, in the long run. Their advice: take your money and go buy space.

Joyce Banks, a rare hook sod conservation librarian from the Public Archives of Canada, described the Wei T'o system of mass deacidification they use. It was installed in 1978 but they only recently got all the problems worked out. It went operational in December 1981 and they have done 20,000 books to date. The vacuum dryer and space are bottlenecks, so they will open a second facility six miles from Ottawa. The system does 20-30 books at a time in one-hour cycles, running 24 hours a day, for a cost of $3.86 ES oar hook, including salaries and maintenance.

Panel on Occupational Health and Safety

J. Andrew Armer, medical officer of the Smithsonian Institution, spoke on chemical hazards for archivists and conservators, including protective equipment and procedures. The audience asked a lot of questions afterwards, including one on how to protect yourself from infection from cuts and scratches at work. (Answer: either get tetanus shots regularly, or go -for a shot immediately after an injury involving contaminated material. And wash the injury immediately with soap and water. Iodine is passe for this purpose.)

I gave a paper that was an overview of occupational hazards for archivists, emphasizing the prevalence of backstrain and reactions to microorganisms found no old paper.

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