The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 4
Jul 1989


Hearings on Recycled & Permanent Paper

On May 4, a House subcommittee held an oversight hearing on recycled and permanent paper, which was successful in the sense that it was well-attended by its own members, friendly and informative. It was not held in connection with any proposed legislation, but was intended merely to provide background information to the Science, Research and Technology Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The witnesses (i.e., experts invited to supply information) were:

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI)
Kurt Vonnegut, Novelist, New York City
Barbara Goldsmith, Author and Trustee, New York Public Library
James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress
Peter G. Sparks, Director for Preservation, Library of Congress
Charles Kalina, Special Projects Officer, National Library of Medicine; and Consultant, NISO, Standards Committee II
Jeffrey Denit, Deputy Director, Office of Solid Waste, EPA
Joseph E. Jenifer, Acting Public Printer, Government Printing Office
Lawrence Hughes, Chairman, Association of American Publishers, Washington, DC
Robert Lawrence, Manager, Planning, Acquisitions & Government Affairs, P.H. Glatfelter Co., Spring Grove, Pa.
M. Bruce Lyne, Manager, Product Performance, International Paper, Tuxedo, New York

Bruce Lyne described several ways in which use of recycled fiber could effect alkaline papermaking, and vice versa: 1) Separate recycling paths are necessary for alkaline and acid waste papers, because when they go into the sane system, foam results and troublesome compounds form. 2) Waste papers containing significant amounts of lignin are not suitable for making alkaline fine paper, because lignin turns dark in an alkaline environment. 3) Alkaline paper has a higher folding endurance but a lower tear resistance than acidic paper, and when it contains recycled fiber the tear resistance is even lower, which makes it very hard for alkaline recycled paper to meet that particular criterion for durability in the permanence standards.

According to the June Washington Hotline from the ALA Washington Office (p. 507), Jeffrey Denit, Deputy Director, Office of Solid Waste, Environmental Protection Agency, described Section 6002 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which strongly encourages federal agencies to use products containing recovered materials to the maximum extent practicable. For book papers, EPA recommends at least 50% recycled fiber content. Exceptions are possible, but reasons must be documented. Denit said EPA recognized that for some purposes, achieving extended lifetimes for paper is essential, but felt that the need for permanent paper was small enough compared with all government use of paper to be the exception rather than the rule. He said EPA stands ready to work cooperatively with agencies with more expertise in permanent paper such as GPO, GSA, and JCP. (He apparently did not think the National Archives or Library of Congress had much expertise on permanence!)

The American Library Association's Washington office subsequently sent the following open letter to the Subcommittee Chair, Doug Walgren. It has been slightly condensed because of space limitations.

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of the American Library Association and its membership of 48,000 librarians, library trustees and other information professionals, let me congratulate you and your subcommittee and staff on the hearing on Preservation of Print, May 4, 1989.

The witnesses were authoritative and well selected: Senator Claiborne Pell, chief sponsor of S.J. Res. 57 to Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers; the Librarian of Congress and Charles Kalina of the National Library of Medicine; Kurt Vonnegut and Barbara Goldsmith, representing the Authors Guild and the New York Public Library; the Acting Public Printer and the Chairman of the Association of American Publishers; representatives of two paper companies and the EPA on paper technology and the use of recycled paper. Among them they presented a well-rounded exposition of our current loss of publications and documents through the deterioration of the acid papers used for the last century and a quarter and the prospects for ending the continuation of the problem through the use of alkaline printing and writing papers.

We do not wish to anticipate the subcommittee' s report and recommendations, but from the perspective of the library community, the hearings brought out the following major points in a clear and convincing manner:

  1. There is no dispute that deterioration of the acid papers in our archives and libraries can be avoided in the future by the use of alkaline printing and writing papers.
  2. If we do not shift to alkaline papers, we shall not be able to stop the present annual cost of scores of millions of dollars to salvage what we can by deacidification and microfilming.
  3. Alkaline printing and writing papers that will last several hundred years are being produced at no greater cost than acidic papers.
  4. There seemed to be a consensus among the expert witnesses that about 30 per cent of uncoated fine papers were alkaline in 1988 and this percentage is growing rapidly. It seems clear that within a few years there should be enough alkaline paper to meet U.S. requirements.
  5. American publishers have begun to respond to the pleas of libraries and public agencies to use alkaline paper and perhaps a quarter to a third of American first printings of hardcover books are on permanent paper, although this is usually not noted in the publications themselves. For scholarly books the percentage is larger. The witness for the Association of American Publishers presented a resolution urging his members to use alkaline papers for first printings of hardcover books.
  6. The Acting Public Printer testified that 30 percent of paper stock on hand was now alkaline, and that the Joint Committee on Printing had adopted one specification for permanent uncoated paper. He also announced that the Government Printing Office was planning to take two further steps: to advise and encourage agencies to specify permanent paper where appropriate, and to use alkaline paper where appropriate even if agencies had not requested it. He did not add that when alkaline paper was used that it would be so stated in the publication.
  7. Testimony by and exchanges among the paper company witnesses and the EPA representative brought out clearly that recycled papers can be either acidic or alkaline depending on the processes used. Recycling and preservation are not mutually exclusive goals. Acceptable alkaline printing and writing papers can be made from recycled materials of a certain quality, but at present the technology does not permit the use of household waste paper because of the contaminants therein.
  8. Currently there is only one American standard for printing paper--American National Standard Z39.48-19B8-and it covers only uncoated paper. No other country appears to have a similar national standard.
  9. Comprehensive as the hearings were, in our opinion two subjects were not covered in as much detail as one might wish:

A. Identifying the paper in the publication. The Librarian of Congress touched on the importance of this point, but it was not mentioned by the publisher witness nor included in the Association's resolution. We librarians regard this as essential. If the nature of the paper is not identified in the publication itself and in the cataloging, libraries will be faced with the completely unnecessary chore of making a chemical test on each item received.

B. Other countries. The hearings understandably were not able to cover the production and use of alkaline paper in other countries, a very important matter for the Library of Congress and other research libraries, since so large a proportion of the materials they acquire comes from other nations. Actually we do not have comprehensive and detailed information on this question, but activities have been set in motion to correct this deficiency. A resolution similar to the Pell-Williams Joint Resolution will be offered at the August 1989 annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in Paris, which should not only stimulate the use of alkaline paper around the world, but lead to the collection of essential data not now available. Also, at a meeting in Washington a few days after your hearing, a committee of the International Standards Organization [i.e., the International Organization for Standardization, ISO] agreed to expedite action to produce an International Standard on permanent printing and writing papers based on the American Standard now in the last stages of revision and expansion. What we do know suggests that a few governments are slightly ahead of us, such as Her Majesty's Stationery Office with respect to British Parliamentary papers and the Finnish Government for all official papers; but by and large the United States seems to be in a leadership position on this issue.

In conclusion, we applaud the subcommittee for an excellent and authoritative hearing, and urge that the hearing be printed and the report issued as expediously as possible in support of Congressional consideration of the Pell-Williams Joint Resolution (S.J. Res. 57 and H.J. Res. 226). The early passage of this resolution will not only expedite progress in itself but set an example to State and local governments and other countries. The optimum outcome would be passage of the resolution prior to the August 17 opening of the IFLA conference in Paris, which would also mean before the August Congressional recess.

We appreciate this opportunity to present our views for the consideration of the subcommittee and for inclusion in the printed record, which will be eagerly awaited by librarians, archivists, historians and many others both in this country and abroad.

Sincerely, Eileen D. Cooke
Director, ALA Washington Office

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