The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 2
Feb 1988


ALA Midwinter, San Antonio

Every January the American Library Association holds a meeting just for committees and other subgroups. All (or nearly all) general meetings are postponed to the Annual Meeting, in late June. Most preservation-related news usually comes out of the committee meetings of the Preservation of Library Materials Section (PLMS), but this year there was news from several other quarters. The following report has been compiled with the help of five participants and two published articles from Cognotes and American Libraries.

ALA Resolution On Permanent Paper

On January 13, the ALA Council adopted a two-page resolution urging the use of permanent paper and acknowledging the work of all the major organizations working in this cause. It is reproduced in this issue as part of the article "Good Resolutions." It originated in the Library Administration and Management Association (LAMA, part of ALA)--a sign that everybody's efforts to get administrators involved are paying off.

Preservation Administrators Discussion Group

There was a good crowd, with people sitting on the floor and in the aisles, to hear reports of major preservation programs outside the United States, and then a discussion of strategies for preservation selection (for microfilming and deacidification, mostly).

Margaret Child described the British Library's national preservation program; Merrily Smith spoke on the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and its activities; Jeff Field spoke on the IFLA Newspaper Project (AM, Jan. 1988, p.2); and Barclay Ogden described the preservation activities of the Organization of American States.

"Preservation selection" is a topic that became important a few years ago after grant support for cooperative microfilming projects became more common. The job of choosing which books to microfilm, from all those in a given subject area, was daunting, and some libraries were reportedly using the "vacuum cleaner approach" as it was first called, or dodging the whole problem by microfilming everything on the shelf whether it needed it or not. If this were not the Age of Cooperation, no one would care what they did with their own books. Now, however, many libraries are helping build the "national collection" or a Noah's Ark of books preserved for posterity on microfilm. Although the national collection is scattered over the country, film copies can be located on national computer networks and borrowed or copied from the library that owns them. If the system were to get cluttered with films and records of worthless books, or books widely available on permanent paper, everyone would suffer. (All this is by way of background for the nonlibrarians among us. It gives only one of many issues involved in preservation selection.)

Speakers on this subject were Helga Borck of the New York Public Library, Sherry Byrne of the University of Chicago, and Barclay Ogden of the University of California at Berkeley. Helga Borck described a detailed and comprehensive selection method based on "condition at the shelf," in which each volume is examined in turn and either filmed, treated, or noted for future treatment. This allows prioritization and the prescription of a variety of treatments, but the data has a finite life, the task is labor intensive, and heavily used materials are less likely to be included in the process.

Sherry Byrne described the pros and cons of the "clean sweep" approach, as it is now known. It has the advantage of not requiring intensive review by the curators, but they do not take time to weed the collections or set priorities either. Carolyn Manna said LC planned to use the clean sweep method for its deacidification program.

Barclay Ogden spoke on the necessity of choosing on some basis, since there is never enough funding. Do all brittle books need to be microfilmed? How do you judge whether a book can withstand further use? There was disagreement among discussants whether it was more important to microfilm heavily used brittle books or to deacidify new books to prevent embrittlement [this statement nay be inaccurate, since the Cognotes article is unclear at this point]. Carolyn Manns said the best time to deacidify books was when they were new, because they lose strength so rapidly at the beginning.

DEZ Test Plant Open House

Since the Library of Congress's new diethyl zinc test facility was close enough for conferees to visit (210 miles to the east, outside Houston), the Library held an open house there January 8 for directors of research libraries or their representatives. Visitors were received by James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress; William J. Welsh, Deputy Librarian of Congress; Peter G. Sparks, Director of the Deacidification Project; and representatives of Texas Alkyls. They had a complete tour, including observation of the open chamber loaded with books on specially-designed carts, the safety systems, and a display of books deacidified in the first three runs. There have been four test runs at this facility, the first such tests in a facility LC considers adequately engineered. A demonstration was scheduled for later in January for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which is conducting its own investigation of all existing mass deacidification processes. The (YEA report should he out within a month, and will be covered in this Newsletter.

Now that the test facility is commissioned (equipped and ready for service), it will spend the next several months in the engineering test phase, with the Texas Alkyls staff evaluating the engineering design and optimizing process variables, and the LC staff developing procedures for deacidifying other formats such as maps and manuscripts.

Library Binding Discussion Group

A panel on the manufacture of book cloth drew a lot of favorable comment. Members were Fritz James, of Library Binding Service, Carl Tauber of Holliston Mills, and Barclay Ogden of UC-Berkeley. Mr. Tauber said he was not convinced that acrylic coatings were better than pyroxylin; it makes books stick together and the cost saving is not good. There was considerable interest in the idea of a lightweight book cloth, 50/50% cotton and polyester, pyroxylin-coated. Another presentation on materials that go into bindings is planned for next tine.

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