The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 5
Aug 1990


Preservation Issues at ALA Chicago

by Ellen McCrady

Most, but not all, of the preservation action at the summer meeting of the American Library Association in Chicago was in PLMS(the Preservation of Library Materials Section), which celebrated its 10th anniversary with champagne and cookies in an executive committee meeting, with a shared booth in the exhibit area, and in other ways. The President's Program took preservation as a theme this year, and had two keynote speakers (William Welsh and John Feather) followed by breakout sessions sponsored by the major divisions of ALA. There was also a preconference, "Preservation Issues in Collection Management," and several other non-PLMS programs. There were so many programs going on in so many far-flung hotels as well as in the conference center, that no one would have been able to attend everything on preservation. Fortunately, it is possible to keep pretty good track of issues and trends if you go to the small committee meetings and discussion groups, where the real action is. This year the topics of greatest interest seemed to fall into four groups: computers in preservation, originals and copies, repair and supplies, and management and grants. Highlights are reported below without regard to time sequence or the meeting in which they came out.

Computers in Preservation

The necessity of knowing how to get what you want from a computer system, if you want to be effective in preservation, is now apparent. This realization hit me as I sat listening to Nancy Elkington's talk introducing the session on "Automation and Preservation," and led me to ask for permission to publish it in this Newsletter later an this year. It presented the case for preservation administrators to help each other master this challenge and become equal partners in their own libraries with other users of automated system.

Bill Welsh, one of the keynote speakers in the President's Program ("Preservation: The Common Ground"), said he saw two big needs in preservation microfilming: 1) international cooperation by building an international database of filmed titles, and 2) a central collection of preservation microfilms (which was his idea to start with; see p. 69 in the July issue of this Newsletter). He was also worried about how to preserve the new electronic and optical formats. In some libraries, they make up a majority of item. (Bill Welsh retired from the Library of Congress in 1988, where as Deputy Librarian of Congress he had been involved in LC's precedent-setting preservation programs)

OCLC, a bibliographic utility with a database like RLIN's only simpler, started out in Ohio but is now national, with working relationships to regional consortia with shared databases, like AMIGOS in the southwest and SOLINET in the southeast. SOLINET's preservation program has become such a success story despite its initial lack of experience with preservation, that OCLC is now working to clone it in other regional consortia. It is starting by working with the Ohio Conservation Consortium on a study of book deterioration in Ohio, and the condition of the microfilm or other secondary format if any, to help Ohio libraries with strategic planning. It is also sharing tapes of bibliographic records (including records of microfilm copies) with RLIN.

Originals and Copies

People are not comfortable with the idea of massive microfilming projects in their libraries, and the more experience they get with then, the more questions they seen to have. What will be the effect on the collection? Will researchers go to other libraries? How will interlibrary loan be affected?

The effect on one collection which had been filmed and cataloged with the help of grant funding has been to make it virtually inaccessible. The Harvard Kress Library of Economic History was put in storage because it was not considered to be necessary any more and the space was needed for something else. (See the front page of the April issue of AN.) It is not clear how much of the decision was based an undervaluation of the subject and how much was based on undervaluation of the format, but the incident is enough put preservation and rare book librarians an the alert.

Funding of comprehensive preservation programs, that is, those that look at broad collections and decide what each item needs, was discussed. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has a moratorium an this type of project but has agreed to allow repair and phase boxing of books in collections being filmed, if it is covered by cost sharing. Title II C of the Higher Education Act will fund treatment of materials. It should be used, preferably, for materials that cannot be reformatted. Grant proposals for HEA are much easier to write than for NEH. Applications are now available and the next deadlines are 10/29/90 and 12/03/90. Call Louise Sutherland or Linda Loeb, 202/3576322 or 357-6902.

Preservation photocopying of books is becoming increasingly popular. The Preservation Photocopy Subcommittee of the Reproduction of Library Materials (RLMS) Copying committee is in the process of writing preservation guidelines, to help keep the quality up, in the face of growing consumer demand. Watch the ALCTS Newsletter for news of this development. Ann Swartzell, chair of the subcommittee, is also editor of the newsletter; ALA is the publisher.

At the RBMS Preconference (before the ALA conference) in Minneapolis this summer, the Curators/Conservators Discussion Group sponsored a workshop entitled "A National Agenda for the Preservation of Books and Documents in Original Form."

Next June's Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) preconference, in the Chapel Hill/Durham area, will have preservation as its theme: "Keeping the Facts in Artifacts." Daniel Traister is one of the people planning it.

Repair and Supplies

The Physical Quality and Treatment Discussion Group had a show and tell session on rebacking, and several people reported good methods of rebacking cloth bindings or reattachment of leather-covered boards. Some methods took only 15-30 minutes per item. Jan Merrill-Oldham argued that the need to train book repairers (for which funding is not available) was more important than the need to hold repair workshops for people who are not in these jobs (for which funding is available). A way should be found for them to attend meetings on the topic and share techniques, at ALA or elsewhere. Robert Espinosa and Randy Silverman urged making a compendium of repair techniques, and many agreed.

In the Preservation Administrators' Discussion Group, there was concern about the kind of adhesives library binders are using for adhesive binding, which has become popular in recent years. Not only the recently introduced Ultraflex (provided through Mekatronics), but its predecessors Planatol and Ehlermann's, are homopolymers with plasticizers added (7.3'/ in Ultraflex). It is believed that all plasticizers migrate out of materials, leaving them stiff or brittle, and that for this reason only copolymers should be used for adhesive binding of books in research libraries. The 1986 LBI standards say in Section 6.3, which concerns double-fan adhesive binding, "An emulsion copolymer of internally plasticized polyvinyl Acetate adhesive should be used." ("Internally plasticized" means naturally flexible.) So it appears that most if not all library binders have been violating the LBI Standards, and that librarians did not know the difference. It also illustrates the uselessness of specifications that the customer is unable or unwilling to check up m.

The same discussion group took up the question of how to retain competent paraprofessionals, especially in repair jobs. Two people present saw no point in trying to hang onto then, but others told the approaches they used, often with measurable success: teach skills valued by librarians, such as the ability to search RLIN (to keep their jobs from being underrated by administrators); humanize the work (result: a doubling of the average tenure); pay well; ask applicants for a commitment to the job at hiring time; recruitment certain groups (e.g., honors students); offering a sense of professionalism and involvement; and so on.

There is a shortage of advice on preservation supplies. Much time is spent on EMail asking about supplies. SOLINET has a list but does not publish it. The Conservation Information Network (CIN) and its materials database was suggested, but only six people in the room had access to CIN. The Canadian Conservation Institute tests a lot of conservation materials and makes the results available, but its tests not necessarily answer the questions a preservation administrator might ask. The National Archives and the Library of Congress test the materials they use, and will share results, but do not have either a published or an online list.

Management and Grants

George Farr of the NEH announced that three states received grants for statewide programs. Their names will be released later.

To get a picture of preservation work going on within the library but outside the preservation department, it was suggested that the accounting or administrative services department be asked to send regular reports or printouts of supplies bought or other information.

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