The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 2
Mar 1987


NLM Hearing on Permanent Paper

The publishers came, despite a snowstorm that crippled transportation into Washington DC for days, and they listened during the morning of January 27 as librarians and several officials of the National Library of Medicine told then about how medical literature is deteriorating to uselessness because of poor paper, and bow the cheapest and only satisfactory way to control this problem was to start publishing on permanent paper. Representatives of three paper companies spoke, saying coated permanent paper was available in weights down to 45 lb/ream at competitive prices, though they could mention only one brand of paper lighter than 50 lb/ream.

In the afternoon, the publishers had their turn as a panel of 10. Three already used permanent or p1+-neutral paper. Three were interested and wanted to know more. One said it would cost $100 million to convert most of the biomedical journals now on acidic paper to alkaline paper, a statement that generated some skepticism. the biggest obstacle to conversion, however, seemed to be not cost but availability of coated permanent paper in the lightweight grades they have been using (38 to 45 lb.). (For comparison, the paper on which this article is printed is 40 lb. permanent paper, but it is not coated.)

This friendly confrontation was a historic event. For decades librarians across the country have longed to get publishers' attention and urge them to start publishing on permanent paper. This hearing seems to have gotten their attention, and also provided an opportunity for them to make librarians and paper manufacturers aware of their own problems. Eleven participants (four librarians, five publishers, one papermaker and one paper chemist) have volunteered to form a committee to follow up on matters that arose during the meeting.

The impetus for this hearing seems to have come from the National Library of Medicine's October 1985 Preservation Planning Program report. Like other libraries that have gone through this ARL self-study process, they found that an unacceptable proportion of their materials had become brittle. One of the recommendations was to "encourage publication in archival formats [to] lessen the necessity for large-scale treatment of the prospective literature. To this end, NLM should launch a campaign to convince biomedical editors, societies and publishers of the benefits of publication in archival formats." the NLM Board of Regents was concerned enough about the issue to schedule this Hearing on the Use of Permanent Paper for Biomedical Literature and send out invitational flyers in December, which said, in part,

A fundamental responsibility of the National library of Medicine is to preserve permanently the content of biomedical literature for the nation. Residual acids in most paper made after the mid-nineteenth century cause it to deteriorate, representing a major threat to the preservation of biomedical literature published since then. The use of acid-free paper and other permanent, archival materials which are now available could stop much of the potential future preservation problem at its source.

To encourage the use of more permanent materials in the publication of biomedical literature, the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine is sponsoring a one-day hearing at the Library's Lister Hill Center auditorium on January 27, 1987.

The purpose of the hearing is to explore the causes of paper deterioration, the aesthetics, economics, and availability of acid-free paper, and to foster further positive action in its use, with emphasis on the use in journals. The hearing will provide a forum in which publishers, editors, paper manufacturers and distributors, printers, biomedical researchers, librarians and other professionals concerned with preserving the biomedical literature can share experiences with the use of archival media.

Because of the snowstorm the day before, the audience was sparse and a few speakers were unable to come. Over 100 people (mostly editors and publishers) preregistered, including the speakers; perhaps 60% of them came . There were a few familiar names in the list, among them Margaret Byrnes, the new NLM preservation librarian; Warren Haas of the Council on Library Resources; Patricia Harris and Betsy Humphreys of NISO; Terry Norris of Nekoosa Papers; also Nina Matheson, Robert Milevski, Vanessa Piala and William K. Wilson. Susan Barger and Abbey Editor Ellen McCrady were there too.

There were some stirring passages and memorable phrases in the morning's talks. It was possible to record their gist if not their exact wording. Albert E. Gunn, Chairman of the NLM Board of Regents, said in his opening talk that there was a bomb shelter for the collections in case of war, bet "it would be ironic if the collection was allowed to destroy itself from within." Congressman William Natcher called the use of permanent paper a form of preventive medicine. Warren Haas said, "It's irrational to continue to print on paper that will fall apart." Judith Messerle, President of the Medical Library Association, said that libraries have permitted the geometrical growth of knowledge and permit researchers to stand on the shoulders of those who went before them; one of their responsibilities is to preserve their collections.

Anthony Liberatore of the P. H. Glatfelter Co. said that conversion to alkaline papermaking is faster now. Ten to 15% of U.S. paper is alkaline; 30 mills have at least one alkaline machine, and 30 others are in the process of conversion. Alkaline paper is available, and here to stay.

Lois DeBakey, Professor of Scientific Communications at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston), gave a persuasive slide talk entitled "Preserving our Medical Archives: an Ounce of Prevention." "Preservationists are in a race with tine," she said, "and tine is winning.... At Yale University 30% of the books are brittle and 80% acidic; half of the New York Public Library is crumbling. By failing to use preventive measures, we acquiesce in this destruction."

Some of the measures suggested by the various publishers as alternatives to switching to acid-free paper for everything were:

  1. Publish a library edition on acid-free paper. This was done by the American Medical Association for six months in 1972, but the demand for it was too low, so it was dropped. Elsevier now publishes a library edition of one journal.
  2. Publish a bound archival version from the film used to publish the journal.
  3. Put the journals onto CD-ROM as the archival copy. There was a lot of interest in this. A couple of publishers said they published an archival edition on microfilm.
  4. Concentrate on the short-run journals with only a few thousand subscribers, as opposed to journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, a weakly with a circulation of 180,000. Or concentrate on the more worthwhile journals. ("There is no need to preserve all 120,000 medical journals in the world. We need fewer.")
  5. Make the switch, and pass the cost on to readers, who are the beneficiaries. ("Subscribers ought to be able to say whether they will get their subscriptions on permanent paper or not. ') Use the ANSI infinity sign in journals now printed on permanent paper so that readers will accept higher prices in return for higher quality.
  6. Just deacidify journals coming into the library.

For the future, one panelist suggested that these ideas be presented to the Council on Scholarly Publication and related organizations. Another asked that more information be made available to publishers. The editor of the American Journal of Cardiology said he had never heard acid-free paper mentioned until 1986, and never saw a column on preservation in any medical journal.

The two publishers that used permanent paper already were Springer-Verlag in Heidelberg, for all 240 of its journals; and the Rockefeller University Press. Ninety percent of Elsevier Science Publishing Company's publications are on neutral paper.

The permanent, coated and (fairly) lightweight paper mentioned was Warren's 45 lb. Somerset Gloss Web.

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