The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 15, Number 1
Feb 1991

ALA Midwinter in the Windy City

by Ellen McCrady

The American Library Association's working meeting this January had the usual enormous number of committees and other &all groups (almost 2000 of them) meeting in various hotels all over downtown Chicago. Each of the 8567 people registered attended his or her own unique selection of committee meetings. I attended 16, of which 11 were PLMS (Preservation of Library Materials Section) meetings, between January 10 and 15. What follows is a rather than a blow-by-blow account. Since it is based on notes taken at the time, it probably contains inaccuracies.

I am more impressed every year by the increasing effectiveness and organizational sophistication of the PLMS committees and officers. They are now working with and through the larger structure of the ALA to reach out to other groups both within the ALA and in related groups or publics with seminars and preconferences, publications, group liaisons, and work on high-level policy commissions. Here, for instance, are some of the institutes, preconferences and programs that are being planned or discussed for the next three years:

Management Strategies for Disaster Preparedness (institute)
Knowing the Score (program on preservation of music)
A preconference on library buildings and construction
Preserving alternate media
A program on statewide preservation programs
A preconference targeted for public librarians
A preconference on project anent (e.g., microfilming, deacidification, retrospective cataloging)

The most interesting discussions this time seem to be on the following topics: copying ("reformatting"), management, deacidification, and education.

Copying: Microfilming, Photocopying, Scanning

Preservation photocopying of brittle books is a small but healthy and growing industry now, after a shaky start (AN Dec. 1985, p. 109; July 1987, p.71). Work on guidelines for preservation photocopies of bound books (Aug. 1990, p. 78) continues. According to all reports, the originals of books sent for photocopying are not discarded after the copy is made. Reasons offered included the following:

We don't view the copy as a replacement.
The user won't let us throw away the original.
We are only copying valuable books or books that can't be microfilmed (e.g., art books).

Several people said that their library kept the microoriginals in a box or wrapper, while others said they just reshelved them. Opinion differed on whether librarians are retaining the originals for production of more copies in the future.

Interest ran pretty high on the Xerox/Cornell scanning project, which Anne Kenney described in the Emerging Technologies Interest Group of LITA (Library and Information Technology Association, another part of ALA). This project is funded jointly by the Commission on Preservation and Access, Cornell University Library, Cornell Information Technologies and Xerox Corporation, for the purpose of developing an advanced system for copying brittle books using digital technology and optical disks, with excellent resolution (600-1200 dpi), capable of receiving information from a variety of sources, including computers, and eventually being able to provide printed copy on demand. They are about a third of the way through the project, just into the production phase mw, with equipment or software upgrades every ten days or so. The next phase is access (electronic full-text access, indexing and printing). They have done 68 books out of their 1000-book single so far, at the rate of four books a day. Mathematics books make up half of the sample, because they are such a challenge: the legibility of each letter or symbol is crucial, if the whole meaning of the passage is not to be lost. Of course the process is expensive now, because this is the development phase, but they hope to bring the price of a 300-page book down to $10-12 eventually. Image quality is about equal to the quality of a good photocopy, sometimes better. Some types of complex or damaged images are copied better by the scanner, others not. Presentations on this project will be given at other conferences, but so far there is nothing published on it.

The elements of longevity in CD-ROMs were given in one of the discussion groups by a representative of Digipress, a CD-ROM company, as 1) use of standards to ensure hardware independence (now achieved: all CD-ROMs can now be played in all CD-ROM drives) and software independence (coming); 2) disks made of stable materials (tempered glass instead of polycarbonate, gold instead of aluminum, and chromium dioxide instead of ink for printing labels); and 3) drives that are not allowed to become obsolescent. The representative said his c can furnish the disks ($140-$1600 each, depending on quantity), but it was up to the librarians to make sure the drives are still manufactured 50 and 100 years from now.

Selection for microfilming is still an issue. Libraries used to microfilm their brittle books, but the need to coordinate efforts to get good coverage in a national program has resulted in a policy now of microfilming selected "great collections"--which include sound as well as deteriorated volumes. It seems ironic that books are selected for filming primarily on the basis of subject, rather than by the classic criteria of value, condition and use, and that books that do satisfy those three criteria (many of which need only mending) are sent to a locked room because there are no funds for mending. The irony springs from the conflict between the national need and needs of the local users. Both are pressing and legitimate. Federal funds have been provided, however, to cover only the national need, that is, to microfilm the most important brittle books in order to save information that otherwise might be lost for good. Many people did not anticipate that such a large drain would be made on local resources of time, spare and personnel to achieve this goal. Of course, in the long run everyone will benefit from this coordinated microfilming effort, but it is hard on chronically underfunded libraries that now have to further restrict reader service. As someone said at the meeting, "Scholars want the books they use preserved--not the Great Collections." How will this tension be resolved? Some are pressing for national funding for repair, but it is hard to foresee that they will succeed in this. Somehow the institutions served by the libraries have to be persuaded to maintain properly the books they have paid to bring into the library.

Aside from microfilming, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is funding a wide and growing variety of preservation activities, even if it does not fund repair as a separate activity: collections care for material culture collections, preservation education and training, planning o state and regional cooperative program, minor repair and rehousing of microfilmed materials, and treatment of endangered materials that cannot be microfilmed.


The University of California at Berkeley has a pilot project to upgrade the training of book repair technicians who are already employed in the University's nine libraries. They travel to Berkeley for three separate weeklong sessions, five at a time, each being assigned his or her own mentor, one on one. It seems to be a well-planned project, likely to have an influence on the training picture nationwide. Lynn Jones is glad to provide information about the program, and welcomes comments.

Education for preservation was discussed in the daylong meeting of the Preservation Administrators' Discussion Group. Everyone agreed it should be made more widely available, especially in library schools, but there was less agreement an how this should be done. More neophyte librarians are going into preservation to start with now, by contrast with the early days, when nearly everyone was a retread. Still, at Simons and the University of Pittsburgh, most students are mid-career librarians, including experienced managers, who need a postgraduate training course to help them handle new preservation responsibilities. Perhaps each library school will have to work out its program in response to the local employment picture.


Ken Harris, Preservation Officer at the Library of Congress (IC), reported that there was lively competition for the mass deacidification contract, with three or more responses received so far. He hopes for a summer award. Work might begin, on a serious production basis, a year after that. Other libraries should not hang back, he said, waiting to see what LC does, and they should not regard as failures the vendors not chosen.

Other libraries trying out various deacidification methods and working out organizational questions are the University of Toronto, University of Connecticut, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the libraries of the CIC (Committee for Institutional Cooperation, a Midwestern consortium of universities).

Mass deacidification was the topic chosen for the am Discussion Group, which I did not attend. Those present were impressed by the appeals of the suppliers for some ALA evidence of serious interest from the libraries. There was a real possibility, they said, that methods could be taken off the market if they attracted no business. Union Carbide has withdrawn from the picture, turning its process back over to Wei T'o, which will carry on in the direction planned by Union Carbide, according to one report from those present; and Dick Miller made the following statement about the current support for the diethyl zinc process:

Despite a high degree of confidence in the process, and a clear demonstration of need, Hercules has withdrawn its support for the DEZ process because they concluded the library community would not move forward in the adoption of this or any mass deacidification treatment in a realistic time frame.

This means that Akzo Chemicals, not Texas Alkyls, will be responsible for marketing and continuing to develop the DEZ process. Akzo is looking for progress this year. If none materializes, even Akzo support is in jeopardy.


The effect of the recession on preservation programs, and ways to profit from hard times, were discussed in the Preservation Administrators' Discussion Group. Some preservation departments have had their budgets cut, while others have been slowed down indirectly by budget cuts in the departments that send them work. When staff are laid off, the department may not be able to match preservation grants.

Those present were reminded that compared to other library functions, preservation is in good shape, especially if you look back at where it was in 1980. Other comments: In bad times, prepare for good; look at what you're doing and find better ways to do it; change is easier to justify in bad times, and people easier to persuade; you can also get rid of outmoded ineffective practices more easily.

Two software systems for managing microfilm program were mentioned. Erich Kesse has Filmlog, and Carolyn Clark Morrow has an integrated system that runs on the Macintosh.

The PADG agenda provides a good s of the discussion an serials binding. Those present compared notes, but reached no conclusions. From the agenda:

Serials: With the establishment of preservation departments, some portion of a library's traditional commercial binding program is typically shifted to preservation. While 100% of the tasks associated with monographic binding can be absorbed without great difficulty, serials binding involves more complex issues. Where are libraries drawing lines in determining who is responsible for what aspects of the serials binding work flow--e.g., who establishes binding titles, pulls materials for binding, creates binding tickets (or automated records), decides how to handle supplements, prepares technical specifications (e.g., instructions to the binder to make a pocket for an accompanying floppy disk, or to bind flush)? Are existing arrangements working? Is there a model we should be working toward?

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