The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 7
Nov 1988


Condition of Paper Records in the Presidential Libraries

One of the many functions of the National Archives and Records Administration is to look after the Presidential Libraries, which are research centers housing the papers and related materials of former presidents. They are set up with private funds, and administered with federal funds. Not all former presidents have their own libraries, but the eight that do are Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford and Carter. They are not clustered in Washington, but are scattered around the United States. The National Archives includes them in its annual report each year: how many documents and artifacts they bold, how many researchers used then, and so on. The 1987 report described a recent study of the condition of the records in presidential libraries, including some information on the types of paper they were on. It is excerpted below.

The Office of Presidential Libraries has just completed the third year of a systematic preservation program. Preservation activities during the 1987 fiscal year took approximately eight percent of total staff time.

A detailed analysis of the major findings of the 1985 preservation survey of the libraries' paper holdings was completed this past year. The textual holdings of the eight libraries are similar in that the most significant parts of their collections, both in terms of size and historical value, are the papers of the Presidents and their staffs and associates. The preservation needs of the libraries, however, vary according to the age of their holdings and the type of paper on which the documents are written or copied.

A number of significant facts were revealed by the survey. Nineteen percent of the libraries' holdings were found to be on newsprint or some other kind of groundwood-based paper, which is likely to deteriorate rapidly. Of the types of special paper surveyed, 13 percent was found to consist of carbons, electrostatic copies, and stencil-produced copies, such as hectograph and mimeograph copies, and one percent was found to consist of Thermofax and other thermally produced copies. All these types of copies tend to deteriorate rapidly.

Of the containers housing records at the libraries, approximately 6 percent was found to be overloaded, 16 percent in poor condition, and 60 percent in fair condition. The survey shows that only 6 percent of the documents sampled suffered from excessive handling or major damage. Approximately 6 percent of the holdings was found to be in excellent condition, 50 percent in good condition, 34 percent in fair conditions, and 9 percent in poor condition. A plan to deal in stages with the preservation problems revealed by the survey is under way. Overall, the collections were found to be in fairly good condition, and the libraries should be able to deal with future problems as they emerge and are identified. [From the October Alkaline Paper Advocate.]

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