The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 6
Sep 1988


House Reacts to OTA Report

The ALA Washington Newsletter for May 31, received here only recently, contains an extensive quotation from the House Appropriations Committee's report (H. Rept. 100-621) which says, in effect, that it is OK for the Library of Congress to contract out the operation of its deacidification facility, but not to decide ahead of time who should get the contract. There is no indication that the question of commercial availability was even considered; that is, whether other libraries would be able to send their books to be deacidified at the same plant when it was not busy with LC work. Here is the quotation in full:

The Office of Technology Assessment has completed a thorough study of the book deacidification efforts of the Library of Congress, as well as the current state of the art in that technology. Their findings are generally laudatory of the Library's diethyl zinc (DEZ) process, although they stipulate there are still safety, engineering and operational concerns that need further evaluation. Furthermore, OTA finds alternative processes which may be safer and less expensive, although they are not as far developed as the diethyl zinc gas phase technology. To some extent, the lack of progress with promising alternatives has been caused by the almost total commitment that the Library of Congress has given to DEZ. That commitment may prove to have short run benefits, but the real question is long term in nature since acid deterioration is a worldwide problem which will take many years and substantial expenditures to resolve.

The Library desires to contract the entire effort to the private sector. If their analysis is correct, that may be a most desirable strategy, and the Committee will support it. The Committee, however, is not willing to support a "sole source" technology solution. If there are technologies available in the private sector, or elsewhere, that can meet the safety, mass production, and quality standards required by the Library of Congress and the library community, they should be considered. It may be that the Library of Congress has underestimated the ability of the private sector, or the benefits of a freely competitive procurement in proposing to restrict their mass deacidification plans to DEZ. While that may well be the outcome, the Committee believes that any procurement for such services should specify only the results or product required, not the technology to be used.

The Committee directs that the Library of Congress consult with the General Accounting Office concerning the appropriate type of procurement, the specifications, and requirements. The General Accounting Office should be asked to review all documents before release, as well as the proposal evaluation process. The Library should also enlist the aid of appropriate outside experts in developing specifications and reviewing bidder response.

The 'sole source' technology solution" referred to is often used in procuring supplies, equipment or services for preservation by government agencies, because there are so few suppliers. It enables the agency to bypass the bidding process for things like leafcasters.

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