The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 1
Feb 1989


TAPPI Symposium: Full Report

by Ellen McCrady

Almost 200 people from every field of endeavor relating to paper permanence and preservation met in Washington, DC. October 19-21, for this symposium, the brainchild of Richard D. Smith, inventor of the Wei T'o method of deacidification. It was a packed schedule, with over 50 papers by speakers who are among the top people in their fields, including three members of Congress. Several people who came from Europe to speak as panel members were allotted only seven minutes on the program, and the average paper was not over 15 minutes. However, it was not the purpose of this meeting to present the results of research or to describe recent projects at the speakers' own institutions, though some papers were of this sort. It seemed rather to be to let everyone get a good look at representatives of the other fields and hear short descriptions of the concerns in those fields.

Quite a few papermakers were there, since TAPPI is the trade association of the manufacturers in the paper industry. Some of the papermakers present were strongly in favor of paper permanence. There were also quite a few librarians, who seem to be the most logical and willing advocates of permanent paper; and standards people, paper chemists, conservators, suppliers of conservation services and supplies, and a few editors, publishers, printers and distributors.

The papers were on the following topics: preservation (including deacidification and microfilming), paper deterioration, standards and testing, and the need for permanent paper. Only two papers focussed on the topic of permanent paper, though many speakers mentioned it, and the topic was raised by participants again and again in the question and answer periods. There was also an informal two-hour preconference on advocacy of acid-free or alkaline paper, attended by 50 people. (Edited 18-page transcripts of this preconference are available from the Abbey Publications office for $13. A four-page report was published in the December Alkaline Paper Advocate, and a brief summary will appear in the published TAPPI proceedings.)

At this TAPPI meeting, there was a great deal of interaction and conversation among speakers and participants, even at lunch time, when the tables bore signs giving the chosen topic of conversation for the people who had signed up to sit there.

A Few Highlights

Jerome Brezner (SUNY Syracuse) gave a paper ("Protecting Books from Living Pests") which was subsequently reported in several newspapers. He reviews available methods of controlling insects in libraries (heat treatment, contact insecticides, fumigation, toxic baits and ionizing radiation) and finds none of them without serious drawbacks. He does not mention integrated pest management. The method he recommends is microwave radiation of books, in an ordinary kitchen microwave oven, upon their return to the library, to prevent reinfestation after fumigation. He builds on previous research and reports his own experimental results, but there are questions that must be answered before this becomes an accepted technique. The author did not get sparking or incineration as a result of paper clips and staples in the books--but other people have: how can this factor be predicted and controlled? Will it melt glue? (A method of reactivating the glue on perfect-bound books was described in the February 1988 issue of this newsletter, p. 42.) Microwave disinfestation is used for grain storage, and is known to work for various insect pests--but what about eggs? Will it be safe for personnel? What are the comparative costs?

Deacidification was discussed extensively. Several speakers identified it as one of the three main solutions to the acidic paper problem: microfilming for brittle books of the past, deacidification for acidic books of the present, and permanent paper for books of the future. Three members of the audience independently spoke up in favor of a choice of deacidification methods and denied the necessity of choosing one over the rest at this stage (Richard De Gennaro, George Cunha and one other). George Cunha said he was preparing another comparison of deacidification systems, to include the systems that had appeared since his first Library Technology Report assessment (LTR, May/June 1987; reviewed in the AN, Feb. 1988). It should be out soon in 1989.

There was some excitement on the morning of the last day when Michael Howe, president of Book Preservation Associates (BPA, a new company offering a deacidification service to libraries through ICI), objected to the harsh criticism that Richard Smith had given the BPA method in his own paper in the preprints. Michael Howe had not been invited to give a paper at the symposium, in which he could have answered the criticism, so he asked for and got a few minutes at the podium. One of Smith's tables represents triethanolamine, the main chemical deposited in the books, as being more toxic than cyanide. Howe denied this vigorously, saying that the worst effect of overexposure would be itchy eyes, whereas cyanide was deadly. Amines are used, be said, in a wide variety of personal care items available in every grocery store, in harmless concentrations. Samples of triethanolamine were sent to a testing lab by Howe and they passed strict toxicity tests. The results were available as a handout at the meeting.

Helmut Bansa gave a serious but funny paper on the difficulties of formulating meaningful permanence standards in West Germany. He is on a standards committee that is dominated by the paper industry and has been forbidden to speak or publish anything on its work until its work is done. The paper industry prefers a standard involving accelerated aging and two levels of permanence (both fairly low), whereas Bansa and the library community prefer one based on furnish like the ANSI Z39.48 and one level of permanence.

To show what a huge effect storage environment can have, two identical sets of old books were exhibited at the meeting, one from the New York Public Library and one from the Dutch Royal Library in The Hague. Many of them were on paper with a high content of groundwood, but the copies from Holland seemed to have scarcely aged, while those from New York were brown and brittle, as one might expect. Henk Porck, conservation scientist from the Royal Library, reported the results so far of a research project on these books and the conditions under which they have been stored. The pH of the New York books ranged from 2.0 to 3.3 at the margin; the Dutch books were 3.4 to 4.5.

The rest of this report will emphasize information that cane out during formal and informal discussion periods.

Facts And Ideas Presented

Surveys of book paper in libraries have been done in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. All have found a smaller proportion of brittle books than in American libraries. It is not likely that this is due to better paper manufacture in these countries, because the Yale Survey (Coll. & Res. Lib., March 1985) found that the condition of books published in the UK, Germany and the US between 1800 and 1979 was similar, on the average.

All but 5% of the journals received by NTIS (National Technical Information Service) are on acidic paper.

A national preservation program is being put together in the Netherlands which will involve a deacidification and strengthening pilot plant.

Alkaline paper makes up 20-25% of all paper produced in the United States, according to two different estimates from the paper industry, and that proportion is increasing rapidly. (The Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of CLR estimated in their 1982 report that about 25% of paper manufactured in 1980 for use in book production was acid-free.)

The chief chemist at the Government Printing Office said that if they ask for paper with the usual minimum pH of 4.5, the price of the paper they get is the same, whether it is acid or alkaline; but if they ask for an alkaline sheet, there is a slight increase, probably because they are adding an extra requirement. (GPO does not usually buy its paper by brand name, but on bid.) A papermaker said that alkaline paper has been priced the same as acid paper from the beginning (he was probably referring to prices at the mill).

David Erhardt asked about the compounds formed when deacidification agents (alkaline reserve) react with pollutants and degradation products. Hygroscopic salts are formed. What is their effect? (He apparently first asked this question in 1981 at an IIC-CG meeting, in a paper co-authored by Tim Padfield and Walter Hopwood, "The Image of St. Joan." In the eight years since, no one has published a comment or reply on the subject, or at least none has been seen at the Abbey Publications office. In a 1987 booklet on formaldehyde published by Harvard University Art Museums, authors Pamela Hatchfield and Jane Carpenter cite a report from Erhardt's lab, saying alkaline earth metals like calcium could act as catalysts and their salts could provide moisture for the oxidation of formaldehyde to formic acid, and the development of formate salts, as well as an increasingly acidic environment.)

ASTM standards now in the works are: 1) a specification for artists' papers, 2) a guide for selection of paper to be used in books, and 3) a test method for quantitative determination of calcium carbonate in paper. Individuals or groups who would like a chance to comment on the draft Standards may contact William K. Wilson, 1401 Kurtz Rd., McLean, VA 22101.

Challenges And Needs

A few of the needs mentioned were education, technical assistance, and a way to tell the alkaline from the acid papers. Senator Hatfield, in his address, said that preservation and acid-free paper are no good if Americans are illiterate and won't read the books. Will nonreaders vote the money, he asked, to preserve books and archives? The present challenge is not caring. We must mobilize and form a strategy for the campaign through a national preservation effort. If the public cares about it, Congress will respond.

Backlash And Opposition

The arguments against change were voiced mainly by Samuel Scaggs, who is in charge of procurement at the GPO. (He does not speak for the Joint Committee on Printing, which sets paper standards for the federal government and which generally favors use of permanent paper. He also does not speak for everyone in the GPO.)

Mr. Scaggs said that the older permanent papers were not alkaline. (For evidence to the contrary, see the Barrow Research Laboratory's 1974 booklet, "Physical and Chemical Properties of Book Papers, 1507-1949," p. 16, which shows that the further back you go in tine, the higher the pH of the average book paper. We have no way of knowing the original p11 of those papers, but the papers made around 1600 and before must have been made alkaline, because they are still around pH 7.0, after 350 years of decline in pH with age.) He also said at two different times that the archival nature of alkaline paper had not yet been established. The second time he said this, the audience murmured rebelliously. Jan Merrill-Oldham spoke up during the question period to say that alkaline paper does in fact have a longer shelf life than acidic paper, other things being equal, and that most people present in the room did realize that deterioration was affected by a variety of factors.

Paper decays because of storage conditions, he said. This statement reflects the accepted view from pre-Barrow days, 30 years ago and more.

Until the smaller printers stock alkaline paper, it would be unrealistic of the GPO to require it, Mr. Scaggs said; it would be impossible to ask them to stock both kinds of paper. He could not explain satisfactorily why they and the GPO could not simply stock alkaline paper instead of acidic paper, making the switch one grade at a tine to avoid undue effects on the national economy or GPO operations.

A staff member of TAPPI said in his windup talk on the last day that there was very little need for paper that lasts for centuries, and nearly all our papers last much too long already. He was concerned about the shortage of landfill space and the solid waste problem. But someone else said that alkaline paper was just as biodegradable as acidic paper.

Congressman Major Owens, in his address on the first evening, exemplified the backlash against preservation. He is not against preservation, but he would like to see it take a different direction from the one it is taking now. He is afraid too much attention is being given to posterity and scholarship. He would like to see what he called "preservation for use," or maximizing access (e.g., more microfilm readers); he advocated selection for preservation being done by the people who use the library; and he is wary of "elitism" in preservation. ("Without action, the best will be saved and shut away from use.") Others followed up on that theme with questions at other sessions.

Owens wanted assurance that the literature and records of minorities were saved. He said the Library of Congress had been a failure in offering leadership for preservation, and he implied that all it had ever done was to send pamphlets to people. (Richard De Gennaro of the New York Public Library later defended LC, saying he had been pleased with the leadership role they had played in preservation.)

Opportunities, Directions To Take

NCLIS (National Commission on Libraries and Information Science) was offered as a forum or mechanism by which to follow up on issues raised at the symposium.

The same staff member who thought that paper lasted too long invited participants to form a committee in TAPPI, which provides a neutral forum, expertise, and a conduit for problem-solving. He advised those interested to start an ad hoc committee, set goals, devise an action plan, and consider which division might best host a permanence committee. Committee members need not belong to TAPPI. Although TAPPI does not fund research, committees can solicit funds outside TAPPI for this purpose.

The new committee will have to choose a scope and mission that harmonize with the purposes of TAPPI:

To meet the changing needs of the Association, and the industry, its purposes shall be:

a. To further the application of science, engineering, and technology in the pulp, paper, packaging, converting, and allied industries.

b. To promote research and education in fields of interest to its members.

c. To arrange for the collection, dissemination, and interchange of technical concepts and information in fields of interest to Association members.

d. To promote the professional development of Association members and other technical personnel.

e. To provide technical information and technical information services.

Anyone interested in helping to form this committee, or willing to respond when called upon for help, should contact the Abbey Publications office well before the TAPPI Paper-makers' Conference, April 10-12.

Sixty years ago, there was a five-member TAPPI Committee on Permanence and Durability of Paper, which lasted from 1929 to 1937, and did little but advocate rag furnish and express skepticism about the utility of accelerated aging. It was born before its time, that is, before the main causes of paper deterioration had been identified with certainty. Verner Clapp describes it on p. 34-35 of his "History of Permanent/Durable Book-Paper, 1117-1970" (Restaurator Supplement #2, 1972).

Jim Turner described governmental expertise that we could tap for preservation) as for instance the building technology research in MIST, HUD and elsewhere, related to controlled environments. He invited participants to call or write him to contact technical expertise, or to suggest topics for hearings, especially topics that are understandable and appealing to members' constituents, like preservation. Legislation often follows hearings, he said. He is a staff member with the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He gave his telephone number: 212/225-8128.

There are certain trends in the paper industry that bear watching, Phil Luner said, because they may affect permanence. Among them are the use of bleached mechanical pulp, high levels (20-25%) of filler, the use of increasing amounts of starch, and continually new additives for printing paper and inks.

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