The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 4
Jul 1990


The AIC Meeting in Richmond

It was easy to see that the main them of this meeting of the American Institute for Conservation was outreach: provision of information to the public by means of leaflets, press releases, books and speakers; recruitment of young people and minorities; and liaison, coordination and collaboration with other organizations. It was the topic of at least four meetings, from the rather formal AIC Advisory Board meeting to a very informal group that simply pulled up chairs in the hallway or sat on the floor. The AIC Strategic Plan is responsible for some of this emphasis, and perhaps Arthur Schultz's talk at the Cincinnati meeting has been having a subtle and pervasive effect over the last year on his listeners. There he urged conservators to become activists in the cause of conservation (AN, Oct. 1989, p. 107).

The AIC referral system is a form of outreach. It has been in operation since April, and is very popular, with an average of 35 requests per week coming in to the AIC office. Most of them are requests for book and paper conservators.

The National Institute for Conservation is also engaged in public awareness and outreach as part of its mission, along with fundraising. It is working on a "Collections Care Information Service," with an 800 number and a carefully compiled selective bibliography with information for ordering the items; some of the items can be sent directly from the NIC office. Care of library and archival collections will be covered. The service is designed mainly for small museums and historical societies that have no conservation personnel.

Representatives of cooperative preservation organizations (NEDCC, SOLINET, and so on) held their 1989 meeting December 6 at the National Archives and discussed common problem and projects. They have been planning a National Cooperative Information Project, to gather all existing preservation leaflets together and select the best for distribution through the National Preservation Program Office, which will in turn make them available in quantity to state and local groups. A long list of topics to cover has been drafted. The task force or group carrying this out is headed by Merrily Smith. Anyone who is interested in taking part is urged to call her (202/707-1840). Announcements about the project were made in different sessions by Karen Garlick and Marian Dirda.

Apoyo, the group formed in support of Latin American conservation, met at noon on Saturday. Although it was originally planned only as a support group for photographic and archival materials conservation, it has expanded to the full range of conservation and seems to be about to include architectural preservation as well. Jose Orraca chaired the meeting, which was essentially a report on progress in getting incorporated, and on projects like the glossary of conservation term. Copies of the first issue of a nicely done four-page newsletter, all in Spanish, were handed out. The newsletter is seen as the most important work of the group so far. Bettina Raphael, Anton Rajer and others who have been consulting in Latin America reported their experiences, and the goals of the group were clarified in discussion.

Single-topic Meetings or Sessions

At a "computer breakfast" organized by museum conservator Lisa Mibach Thursday morning, people reported the system they used for conservation record-keeping. As in 1983, when a similar meeting was called by Deborah Evetts, it seemed no two labs used the same hardware or software. Fran Mayhew will compile a collection of documentation form. Walter Henry handed out an information sheet on the computer network for conservators he is building (reprinted elsewhere in this issue).

A meeting was held at 6:30 Thursday evening to discuss the findings of the Conservation Science Task Force, which bad compiled a list of conservation scientists, their addresses, specialties and research interests. Those present received a 40-sheet (75-page) laser printout, entitled "Prototype Research Resource Directory--Draft." Seventy-five pages may seen like a lot, but the list is still incomplete. Although only two names were listed under "paper" (Harald Berndt and Robert E. McComb), there were familiar names under some of the other 48 specialties: David W. Von Endt, Walter C. McCrone, Susan Lee-Bechtold, R. Scott Williams, Paul Whitmore, David Grattan, James M. Reilly, James Druzik, Jonathan S. Arney, and David Erhardt. When I walked in, 40 minutes late, a debate was in progress over the definitions of scientist and research, term often used loosely. In fact, little common ground was discovered for any of the topics discussed while I was there; but this is how it always is when people come together for the first time about something. The Task Force members are Eric F. Hansen, Chandra Reedy, Mary F. Striegel and Phoebe Dent Weill.

A session entitled "Coping with Natural Disasters" ran from 9 to 11 pm Saturday evening, the fourth evening of the conference. One of the talks was about an hour long, and there was quite a delay before the hotel engineer could find a way to turn off the lights so we could see the slides. You would think people would be burned out by that tire, and sleepy at that hour, but interest ran high and people were very pleased with all the talks, especially the hour-lag one, which was by Christopher Slusher of the National Trust, on disaster planning and recovery for historic houses affected by Hurricane Hugo. None of the talks were about libraries or archives, but disaster planning in museums has a lot In common with them. Next year there will be a pre-session on disasters.

The general session Thursday morning was on mass treatments, again without any examples from libraries or archives, but relevant to their concerns nevertheless. There are times, even for museum conservators, when it is not possible to do full documentation on each piece treated, including before and after pictures--for instance, during emergencies like fires or floods, when rapid triage is called for, or at archaeological digs, where hundreds or thousands of bones or bits of glass are dug up and need immediate stabilization of some sort to hold them till they can be given individual treatment in the laboratory. In libraries and archives, where there may be 1000 pages in a book or 20 boxes of documents all needing more or less the same treatment, mass conservation is common though still sometimes controversial.

It is interesting to see museum conservators, from whom library conservators have learned and can still learn so much, following in the footsteps of library conservators in disaster planning and mass conservation.

News from the Book and Paper Business Meeting

It will be the Book and Paper Group's turn to do a 1 1/2 hour update session next year, as part of AIC's policy of keeping the special interest groups informed of developments in each other's fields. Topics covered this than will be scientific analysis, philosophical concerns for libraries and archives (e.g., reformatting), treatments, publications and catalogs.

There are 772 members in the Book and Paper Group, the largest specialty group in the AIC. Only a minority of them come to Book and Paper meetings.

Eric Hansen of the Getty Conservation Institute, from the AIC Conservation Science Task Force, described the Task Force's work and asked those present to let them know of any research needs in book and paper conservation. A questionnaire will be in the newsletter this summer.

Kate Maynor said the 7th "edition" (installment) of the Paper Conservation Catalog will appear in September, covering washing, support problems and spot tests. This work is supported by NEH. Earlier parts now need updating and revision. This will be done at AIC meetings.

Work on the Book Catalog Compendium is proceeding apace. A report appears elsewhere in this issue.

Selected Papers

Two researchers gave preliminary reports on results from major projects. Susan Barger spoke on the paper resizing project at Johns Hopkins, which examines the effect of sizes used by conservators an old papers after washing, or after washing and deacidifying. Sizes tested were gelatin, Klucel, methyl cellulose, starch and vellum, which are those most commonly used by conservators. Samples were also tested with parylene. Test papers, which were from 18 books published 40 to 200 years ago, were analyzed before and after accelerated aging on 11 characteristics including strength, appearance and various chemical and morphological characteristics. Because the data has not been analyzed yet, there were few findings to report, except that vellum size (obtained by boiling scraps of parchment or vellum) seemed to be the best of those studied, and that certain papers were not helped or strengthened by parylene. Analysis will be a big job, far too big to do by hand, but should result in some significant advances in the field of paper conservation.

(At the 1985 AIC Seminar on Paper Sizing, participants were impressed as much by the questions no one had any answers for, as by the knowledge and experience of those who organized the seminar. Another conference that was the first to address a neglected key topic and which also impressed participants with what was not known, was the 1980 fumigation conference in Maryland, reported on page 30 of the July 1980 Abbey Newsletter. The progress in museum and library pest control of the last ten years truly dates from that eye-opening conference, which pointed the way. Similarly, the Sizing Seminar and the Johns Hopkins research may one day increase our understanding of resizing and add to our basic knowledge of paper. Unfortunately, a request for funding to analyze the data has been turned down in the last few weeks since the conference.)

Helen Burgess presented initial results of a research program at CCI to study the effects on naturally aged paper of washing, deacidification and treatment in a solution of a neutral magnesium sulfate salt. Like the Johns Hopkins study, the study uses a variety of naturally aged papers and tests them before and after humid aging. Control samples are washed with deionized water or not at all. Degradation is monitored by estimating the degree of oxidation and measuring the degree of polymerization of the. cellulose molecule. The results so far show a more complex picture than before and may make obsolete several popular rules of thumb. Washing with pure water, for instance, increased the permanence of some papers " decreased it in others, depending on the initial pH, degree of degradation and nature of the nonfibrous paper constituents. Ten years ago, Lucy Tang showed that high concentrations of deacidification solutions were not necessary; virtually the same effect on permanence could be obtained by washing in water that contained only 15 ppm of magnesium bicarbonate or the equivalent calcium salt; but the CCI research showed that some small improvement did result from increasing the concentration from 20 to 200 ppm, on most of their paper samples. One of there was actually made less permanent by increased pH. Some of the conclusions:

Alkalinity can destroy and protect at the same time and effects can cancel each other out.

Papers without lignin tend to benefit from alkalinization.

Neutral pH magnesium sulfate treatments help.

Lignin-containing papers do not react consistently to washing and deacidification.

There is a lot of meat in this paper. No information is available on when it will be published, or where. Only an abstract, of course, was supplied by AIC, since preprints have been done away with. (Someone was gathering signatures for a petition to bring back the preprints.)

Connie McCabe gave a paper before the Photographic Materials Group, which I was able to hear just before I left, about the optimum storage RH for glass plate negatives as determined by analytical studies at the NARA. Above 407., the glass deteriorates and gives off liquid silanes; below 30'/., gelatin negatives curl off the glass support. So they have settled upon 357. 27. RH as their target RH level for storage of glass plate negatives.

Don Sebera gave a theoretical paper on the relative effects of deacidification and strengthening on permanence. A paper with a 75-year lifetime might have only 37 years added to its life by strengthening that increases folding endurance 20 times (from 10 to 200 double folds). This would be true no matter when the strengthening is done--

Graph

Figure 1. Increased paper permanence resulting from combined strengthening and deacidification. If the life of the paper is assumed to be ended when it breaks at one fold, its normal lifespan here is 75 years (A). If it is deacidified when its strength has declined to 10 double folds, its remaining lifespan will be 100 years, or four times as long (C). If it is strengthened instead of deacidified, even when its strength is multiplied 20 times (from 10 to 200 folds), its lifespan will be extended by only half as much (B). If it is both strengthened and deacidified (D), the lifespan is increased markedly--twice what one would expect by adding together the improvements brought about by deacidification and strengthening separately.

whether the book is new and strong or old and fragile. But deacidification (especially when the paper is still strong) has a long-term payoff, and may result in a stronger book long before that 37-year period is over. The best payoff is from both treatments together. Here is one of his graphs, without the mathematical symbols and relationships it was designed to illustrate. The values are arbitrary and the strengthening agent is assumed to deteriorate at the same rate as the paper. The graph is meant only to be a planning tool, not a description of any particular process or material. This paper will be submitted to the AIC Journal for publication. A subsequent paper applying these ideas to deacidification and strengthening processes currently available is in preparation.

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