The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 1
Feb 1989


ALA Midwinter

by Ellen McCrady

The American Library Association had its midwinter meeting in Washington, DC, this year, January 6-10. It took up the meeting space in five or more hotels, because each committee meeting had to have its own room if possible, and there must be scores, maybe hundreds, of committees in ALA. In fact, they ran out of regular rooms, as they always do, and had to schedule a lot of committee meetings in what they called "cubes"--curtained-off areas in a large basement, with dreadful acoustics. At one point, the committee I was in stopped because they couldn't hear each other any more, and spontaneously shushed our rowdy neighbors. And before anybody says anything about librarians shushing other people, please note that the rowdy neighbors were librarians too

There were thousands and thousands of librarians in town, so they must enjoy it anyhow. Most of them are not on committees, but kibitz while the committees go about their work, or take part in discussion groups. I went to committee meetings or discussion groups in the following sections:

PLMS - Preservation of Library Materials Section
RBMS - Rare Books and Manuscripts Section
RLMS - Reproduction of Library Materials Section

A selection of the meetings I attended is reported here.

PA Discussion Group

The Preservation Administrators Discussion Group got a whole day on the program for the first time. Membership in the group (the only PINS discussion group with a restricted membership) is extended to preservation administrators who are a) full time, b) supervisors of staff, and c) the only one from their institution. Nevertheless, their number grows at about the same rate as the amount of time they get on the program, so they are rarely able to discuss more than one or two topics per meeting. There were about 22 discussants at this meeting. The morning was spent with descriptions of each person's library preservation program: its scope, funding, objectives and recent developments. Two long-term plans were mentioned: a 10-year and a 25-year plan.

In the afternoon they discussed the costs involved in microfilming, to see if there wasn't a way to economize. They covered searching, queuing, page-by-page collation, and minimum level cataloging. Preservation searching was a problematical function, hard to do without the cooperation of the Technical Services people, but hard to squeeze into the schedule even with their cooperation, because it takes time on the RLIN terminals for altruistic functions like queuing, the value of which is hard for non-preservation people to understand. One program gets around that by paying the salary of one person in Technical Services.

Queuing (putting a note into the RLIN database, saying your library intends to film a title) is seen as important if books are discarded after filming, which about half of the libraries do. Also, with much more filming going on now (thanks to grants, MAPS, and workshops in how to get started), it is important to queue because it is more likely that someone else is considering filming the book you have in hand.

Page-by-page collation for monographs was not seen as essential by everyone, so that was one short cut to consider. Serials, however, were felt to need it.

The issue of minimum level cataloging for microfilm has been debated for years. Microfilms without records in the catalog are almost worthless, so some cataloging is necessary, but opinion is divided about just how much is necessary, and several ALA committees are giving it attention. Meanwhile, cataloging arrearages mount.

Jan Merrill-Oldham reported on the ARL survey of preservation statistics. Half the returns are in for the current year. A problem has been distinguishing minor, intermediate and major conservation treatment, bat this group advised her to decide on the basis of the time the treatment takes rather than the nature of the work or the person who does it.

PLMS Discussion Group

The format this tine was a panel on the topic of administration of book repair units, chaired by Margaret Child. Panel members were Bob DeCandido, Lynn Jones, John Dean and Wes Boomgaarden.

Lynn Jones spoke on recruitment. At Berkeley, they send letters, post notices in the Abbey Newsletter and put ads in the local papers. They have to choose people strictly on the basis of their resume and the oral interview, since the union forbids them to test people or to look at any work they have done. They ask for conservation knowledge, very good library binding knowledge, library experience, and information about dexterity and attention to detail.

John Dean said that the batch process was best for training, and advised having production goals. (He does not see training as a two-week process, bat as something that continues.) Like Lynn Jones, he recognized that book repair in a library was a dead end job even if you have two or three levels of responsibility, but he said the more motivated ones can get further education and move on.

Wes Boomgaarden said you could recruit for conservation among the book repairers (he had repaired books in the library himself as a student). Management of people, he said, is the most important role in preservation. They do leave the job--but if they're good they should. Keys to managing of people are good recruitment, training, supervision, evaluation, accountability, and true rewards.

Bob DeCandido discussed the integration of book repair with the rest of the library, much of which involved interception, decision-making and routing of deteriorated books. He advocated letting the people at the circulation desk sort out books for replacement, boxing, commercial binding or repair, with the help of guidelines. The audience got into a discussion of this and described the various methods they had used, some of which worked and some of which didn't. Although bibliographers are able to spot a certain percentage of books that aren't worth spending too much money on, they are not able to decide which to repair or send to commercial binding. At the University of Connecticut, after trying various arrangements, they now send everything through conservation. Bibliographers only get the books that will be expensive to fix or copy. Only the books that will take less than a half hour to repair are done inhouse.

Almost everyone had had a problem with wages of book repair people, to judge from audience comments in the discussion period that followed. The library tends to under

value the work they do and the skill they have to have. Advice to people who supervise book repair operations: get that wage ceiling raised, back applicants in bargaining for higher pay, be persistent, use guerrilla tactics if necessary, and present repair as a function that protects the library's capital investment.

Library Binding Discussion Group

The Heckman Bindery initiated a no-trim policy last October without notifying its customers, feeling that it was justifiable because it was in the LBI standards, and wanting to offer what they felt was higher quality even though it was more work for them. There was an outcry from the customers because the books looked ugly and were hard to edge-stamp. It turned out that over 90% of the bindery clerks had never heard of the standards, which by the way only forbid trimming for volumes that will be recased and that are already rounded and backed.

Don Etherington reported on the first year of the Conservation Division of ICI (AN, Oct. 1987, p. 104). They are working on a simple case structure for special collections materials. He has also been asked by a number of institutions to train their people, and is now working with two or three. They offer paper strengthening through the parylene process (good for brittle books that are not candidates for microfilming) and deacidification with Book Preservation Associates' ammonia/ethylene oxide process. Several people in the audience expressed a need for testing that would answer the questions they had about outgassing, and they went back and forth for quite a while with ICI representatives about this, without getting satisfaction. Testing has been done, but it was designed to answer different questions than the librarians have been asking.

Jack Bendror described the progress he has made on his latest equipment. He has a new machine for adhesive binding in library binderies, fully automated, called Ultra-bind. It is very expensive, but it incorporates notching and double fan sanding (a process for which Werner Rebsamen expressed great admiration a few years ago), and all procedures are optional. It is not for sale yet, bat a prototype will be ready by summer. It uses Ultraflex glue, which has a higher solids content and is 86% stronger than Ehlermann glue. Ultraflex glue has a pH of 6-7, while Ehlermann is 4. He had to switch glues because the Ehlermann company has been sold and supplies are costly and not reliably available. He no longer sells double fan binders.

Robert Feller's replacement at the Mellon Institute, Paul Whitmore, went to a number of meetings at this convention to learn what the research needs of the library preservation field were.

Physical Quality And Treatment Committee

This committee of five met in one curtained-off "cube," with about 25 guests to hear reports of ongoing research at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Norvell Jones, Chief of the Documents Conservation Branch at the Archives, said that the chemistry laboratory there had only one research project at the moment: shrink packaging. They want to find out what happens when deteriorated leather and paper are enclosed in the same package. (The Archives has a lot of old books with detached covers in its collections around the country.) MIST (NBS) has been helping. The chem lab does testing of storage and conservation materials used by conservators and other staff, and has a list of all products tested so far. The Archives' 20-year plan, described on p. 74 of the July 1985 Abbey Newsletter, is being revised.

Chandru Shahani, head of the Preservation Research and Testing Office at the Library of Congress, described the research that he and two staff members are doing there. In connection with the ongoing debate on storage environments between chemists, who advocate low relative humidity, and conservators, who advocate relatively high relative humidity, they are looking at what happens to parchment at low RH.

Lignin is another of their interests. Do paper and board used as storage materials really have to be free of lignin? For the past three months they have been studying the permanence of paper with varying amounts of lignin.

He has reopened the investigation on the effects of encapsulation, in recognition of the fact that many people are encapsulating without deacidifying first. At temperatures used in accelerated aging, you get rapid deterioration wherever air circulation is limited, including inside encapsulations. At normal storage temperatures, do you get the same effect? Until we know more, everyone should deacidify first.

How much alkaline reserve is necessary? They have found it depends mainly on whether aqueous or nonaqueous deacidification is used. The alkaline reserve after aqueous deacidification can be 100 times smaller than after nonaqueous deacidification, and be just as effective. So if you have a choice, do aqueous deacidification and aim for an alkaline reserve of at least .02% (not 2%).

Other research work there involves the effect of various bicarbonate solutions on paper, ink and other record materials, the effect of bicarbonates on copper in paper (to appear in the American Chemical Society's Advances in Chemistry series), RH cycling, nitrogen oxides, accelerated aging conditions, and deterioration of cellulose acetate.

[Moments after writing the last paragraph, I received in the mail a letter to all IADA members from Mogens Koch, the president, urging members to write him and make their needs and interests known. I felt sorry for him, especially because in PLMS (and other sections of ALA) not only the chair but other members learn of each other's needs and interests, plans and accomplishments--twice yearly. This is one of ALA's strong points.]

This report was compiled from handwritten notes, and may contain inaccuracies.

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