The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 1
Feb 1985


PLMS at Midwinter

The American Library Association (ALA) has two general meetings a year, the main one in July and the "Midwinter" one in January. Meetings are held at all levels--the association and its divisions, sections, committees and subcommittee for about a week, but the meetings of the Preservation of Library Materials Section are concentrated in a two- or three-day period. You do not have to be an ALA member to attend, as log as your interest in the proceedings is legitimate. You do not even have to be a committee member to take part in the discussions in the various committee meetings. Sometimes it is impossible to tell members from nonmembers, unless you notice who is voting or giving a report and who is not. Usually there are 10 to 40 people sitting around a long table and in nearby chairs around the edge of the room. Since most interested people attend most of the meetings, there is considerable overlap in attendance from one committee meeting to the next. Sometimes it is like a change of venue: at the end of one meeting, most people walk together to the next meeting in another room.

Although PLMS has over 1300 members on paper, only a small fraction of these people attend meetings and there has been little attempt to communicate with the "silent majority" except through the new and excellent preservation column of the RTSD (Resources and Technical Services Division) Newsletter.

People who have attended PLMS meetings for years complain about not seeing many completed projects. They should consider the nature of the challenges PLMS chooses to address, and its resources. What PLMS wants, if I may presume to speak for the organization, is to save the rapidly-deteriorating records of civilization, the books and other records in our libraries. At least they want to do what is possible to extend the life of these records, until we are sure we are through using them. Now, this is a many-faceted technical problem, and librarians are not generally very technical people. Furthermore, it is a very large problem, international in scale, and librarians have little money or power. Still, they persist, knowing there are some things they can do effectively that no other group can or will do.

Many of their projects relate to technical aspects of running a library: encouraging invention of nondestructive copiers, evaluating archival storage materials, working with library binders to get better bindings, and so on. PLMS members teach themselves and each other about these technical things, and share news of recent developments at their meetings. Some of the projects they attempt (e.g. compiling an annotated list of all standards related to library preservation) require more technical background than the committee involved now has (or may ever hope to have), and few of the members have staffs to whom they can delegate technical committee work, so it is little wonder that a certain percentage of all projects never get completed.

Nevertheless, many projects are completed, and much good work is facilitated through PLMS. Here is a report of the meetings of January 5-6 that I attended, in Washington, DC at ALA Midwinter.

PLMS is not the only ALA group that concerns itself with problems of preservation. To coordinate its activities with those of groups dealing with microfilms, rare books, serials and so on, PLMS has begun exchanging liaison people. I went to a meeting of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Security Committee on my own, because they were discussing a draft of some model legislation to discourage theft and mutilation of library materials. The model legislation does not set penalties, except restitution in some cases--penalties will be for the legislatures to decide--but does define carefully the types of actions that need to be covered (changing catalog records, sneaking books out, cutting out parts of books, not returning materials more that one month overdue after receiving written notification, and so on). This proposed legislation has had attention recently in the national press.

The meeting of the recently-formed Preservation Microfilming Committee drew attendance not only from PLMS but from the Reproduction of Library Materials Section, the Serials Section, and one other section. The room was large but packed. Its function is to coordinate sharing of resources and cooperative projects, and to keep people informed. We heard reports from the people who are doing big microfilming projects, the people who are compiling lists of what has been filmed, and the people from organizations that are funding both activities. They represented RLG, LC, ARL, NYPL, NEH, and NEDCC.

Optical discs and machine-readable master negatives are now part of the picture, along with ordinary microfilm and microfiche, in some libraries. The "Cooperative Preservation Microfilming Project" of the Research Libraries Group (RLG), which is covering monographs- -many now brittle--on Americana printed between 1876 and 1906, is now half done, and RLG is looking to do serials of the same period. Bibliographical control of microfilm is coming along nicely, with stray uncatalogued collections of master negatives being brought into the fold at reasonable close intervals. As I sat there I began looking forward to the day, not many years hence, when nearly all significant brittle books (in English at least) will be on film or disc, so that the risk of losing the last copy of any given brittle book is greatly reduced. When that day comes, I wonder whether the great foundations will rest, or whether they will divert their newly freed funds to some other process that will preserve the original material. Already RLG is considering how to save music collections by some means other than microfilming. As they say, you can't play from a microfilm. (In a later meeting, it was reported that the Exxon-funded, Council on Library Resources-sponsored regional preservation facility for the Mid-Atlantic region might be a microfilm facility, and it might not.)

The PLMS Executive Committee discussed the need to be concerned with library materials that were neither books nor paper. They struggled to find the right inclusive term (audiovisual materials? non-paperbased materials?) and acknowledged their lack of expertise in the areas where technical specialists usually take whatever preservation measures are felt necessary, as for magnetic tapes, sound and video recordings, and so on, but nevertheless those present felt the need to become more familiar with the preservation needs of these materials, which are expected to make up 25% of library acquisitions by the year 1988. RTSD PLMS's immediate "parent" group, is considering having a program in 1986 on the future impact of social and technological change on libraries. Since preservation is one of the functions most affected, PLMS will take part.

In the Physical Quality of Library Materials meeting, Don Etherington turned in the report on recommended standards for preparing and binding theses, saying Jane Boyd had worked hard on it. She compiled it from the handbooks of the Council of Biological Editors and other academic organizations that have their own guidelines for theses. There is a long form for dissertation secretaries and a short form for students.

In this same meeting, each of us was given a copy of a silly leaflet advertising "Acropolis Book Care Products." a company called American Library Service Corporation (2426 W. Granville Road, Worthington, OH 43085) is pushing five Talas products under their own name, for use by book dealers. Some of these products may be ineffective or harmful in the hands of untutored book dealers and their employees. The products are: book cleaner, "leather binding preserver" (potassium lactate), leather dressing, and adhesives 454 and 403. The leaflet makes false and misleading statements, e.g., 'When you use Acropolis Leather Preserver to absolutely stop the deterioration of a leather binding and then add to its beauty by finishing the job with Acropolis Leather Dressing [you add $5 to the value of the book]"; "[The use of potassium lactate on older binding] will halt decay and restore suppleness to the leather"; and ". . .This paste [Acropolis Adhesive #403 for cloth] contains no water." Opinion was divided on the question of what to do about this kind of thing.

In the Policy and Research Committee, a show of hands was taken on who had a computerized system for queuing books for specific preservation treatments. No one was using a computerized system at present, but Stanford University will have a program ready soon. It will run on an IBM PC, using a data base management system. Other matters discussed were I) the need to have our list of research projects ready in case someone gives us money for doing them, and 2) getting permanent paper used for federal and state government documents.

In the Library/Binders Relations Committee, Paul Parisi reported on the revised draft of the Library Binding Institute Standards, which is expected to be published by mid-1985. Although the people present seemed to agree that the new standards should be as official as possible, the committee and task force that have been working on them have not gone through a formal standards-setting organization like ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). Someone asked whether LBI could be "a resource for disgruntled librarians" dissatisfied with the service of their binder, and LBI people present said yes. There was some argument on whether there was a place for oversewing in any list of conservationally sound library binding procedures. John Dean, who is a binder as well as a librarian, didn't think so, but Jan Merrill-Oldham, a librarian, defended it.

In the Education Committee Ann Russell recommended establishing an institute or some form of preparation for all library school instructors who teach a course wholly or partly on conservation, because half of those now teaching it have no formal training in the subject. She invited the committee to brainstorm the problem. Chair Sally Roggia announced that the proceedings of the first ALA/LC seminar (I think she meant the one given for top administrators) will be published this spring, and that the repair workshop this August may be repeated.

The Discussion Group had such a full program of fact-filled reports on important recent developments that there was no time for discussion until the meeting broke up. This is probably an indication of the increasing pace of progress in library preservation. There was one big piece of bad news, though: the Koppers Company of Pittsburgh, which has been working out a new mass deacidification method, has decided not to pursue its idea further, because a market study has convinced then it would not be profitable enough. The method is no longer a secret, because it was recently patented, and a patent is a public document, but no details are available yet. Anyone interested in talking Koppers into continuing the project should contact Barclay Ogden at the University of California, Berkeley.

SOLINET and its 451 member libraries are off and running as of January 15, on their regional conservation program, funded by NEH and headed by Lisa Fox.

The Library of Congress's survey of its collections to find out how many of its books were candidates for diethyl zinc deacidification was reported in good detail by a representative of King Research, which designed the study and trained the staff (LC did the lab work). The sample size was 1200, the confidence level was 2.6%, and the samples were chosen by an interesting method not used in library surveys before: the method of replicated subsamples. Findings:

  1. Despite the fact that the average book in LC is only 25 years old, the paper in most books is quite acid. The average pH was 4.0 and 91% were below pH 5.8.
  2. 25% were brittle.
  3. Each year, about 77,000 books of the 13 million volumes in LC can be expected to become brittle if not deacidified.
  4. Each year, about 221,000 books would decline from the "strong" category to the "moderate strength" category if not deacidified.

Other developments at LC: the county atlas project, for which the encapsulation and binding of about 2000 atlases (I think) was contracted out, is done and was a success. Similarly, 2500 oriental-style wrapper cases for rare books have been contracted for. The diethyl zinc facility is still in the design phase at NASA. There will be a testing room and a development lab to explore application to other types of materials. The fungistatic properties of diethyl zinc are being explored now, with the aim of maximizing this effect. The cost per book is expected to decline from about $3.50 to $2.00/volume once production is under way. (Richard Smith showed figures to show that his process was cheaper, if you included construction costs in the per-volume figure.)

Paul Banks said the programs at Columbia University are flourishing. All 12 graduates have good jobs. There are 21 more students in the pipeline, with room--and financial aid--for many more.

Pat Harris of the National Information Standards Organization (formerly Z39) announced that the standard for Permanence of Paper for Library Materials, Z39.48-1984, would be published the following week. (It can be ordered for $5.00 from ANSI. See the separate list of "Useful Addresses.") Another standard, on environmental standards, is in the wings.

Jeff Heynen reported on his survey of Association of Research Libraries members, from which he has an 88% return so far. (The survey was sponsored in part by PLMS.)

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