The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 15, Number 8
Dec 1991

NLM Celebrates Permanent Paper in Medical Journals; Campaign is Succeeding

On October 25, 1991, the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) sponsored a local "hearing" on recent progress in use of permanent paper for biological and medical literature. It had been almost five years since its first hearing on this topic, which was also held at the Library. That was the beginning of its campaign to actively encourage publishers to use acid-free or permanent paper in order to stop deterioration at its source. It also encourages publishers to publish a notice on the back of the title page if the paper in the journal meets the ANSI Z39.48 standard. If the paper is alkaline but does not meet that standard, or the publisher does not know whether it does or not, NLM encourages them to say at least that the paper is acid-free.

The hearing was actually an occasion to celebrate for some 100 publishers, editors, paper manufacturers and distributors, printers, researchers and authors, librarians, preservation professionals, and members of the concerned public. Gerard Piel, chair of the NLM Permanent Paper Task Force, gave the good news that half of the world's leading biomedical journals indexed by NLM in the Index Medicus are now printed on acid-free paper, up from 4% in 1987. Those journals come to the Library, of course, from all over the world. Four fifths of the indexed American journals are now acid-free. He predicted that with continued expressed demand by users, given the dynamics of the paper industry and market, this trend can be expected to accelerate.

Joining in the celebration that was presided over by Dr. Ruth M. Davis, Chair of the NLM Board of Regents, were Dr. Jay Moskowitz, NIH Associate Director for Science Policy and Legislation, who welcomed the participants on behalf of Dr. Bernadine Healy, the director of NIH, Representative George E. Brown, Jr., Chairman, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education.

Mr. Hoyer transmitted the good wishes of Representative William H. Natcher, the Subcommittee Chairman, who had been the keynote speaker at the 1987 permanent paper hearing. He described the early concern of the Appropriations Committee about the problem of preserving publications, and its interest in the NLM permanent paper initiative as a means of reducing the expense of preservation at its source, and he recalled the uncertainty then about what progress could be made. He and his colleagues were pleased to be able to look forward to finishing the job.

NLM Director Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg recalled the myths that at first had to be dispelled about the availability of alkaline papermaking technology, its economics, and the market for acid-free paper. He noted that expenditures for the preservation of earlier collections cannot be avoided, but that the use of permanent paper is the most productive form of preservation for a future that emphasizes cost containment.

Barbara Goldsmith, author, social historian, journalist, and trustee of the New York Public Library, related how the major trade book publishers expressed their commitment to acid-free paper at the insistence of the novelists, essayists, and poets whose works they publish. She cautioned against complacency because there are still significant publishers not aware of the problem of acidic paper or disdainful of it. Dr. M. Bruce Lyne of the International Paper Company described the evolution of alkaline papermaking and the prospect of essentially all printing and writing paper being made alkaline by the mid-nineties. Industry expectations are for an increasing variety of alkaline papers, eventually even newsprint. Mr. Martin Ernst, representing the Harvard University Program on Information Resources Policy, discussed how the format in which information is presented must be determined by its content. He concluded that paper would continue to be a vehicle for a significant portion of information exchange in the foreseeable future. He endorsed the validity of concerns for its effective preservation, but he also urged better recognition of the need to develop preservation measures for the growing volume of information recorded on electronic media.

Dr. French Anderson, Chief of the Molecular Hematology Branch of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a scientist-author concerned with the use and preservation of the scholarly record in biomedicine, was the luncheon speaker. The clarity of his discourse on the principles and applications of gene therapy facilitated a discussion of this pioneering concept by the novice but engrossed audience.

Dr. Thomas E. Bryant, President of the Friends of the National Library of Medicine, moderated an afternoon six-member panel that described the activities and experience of the Government Printing Office as a catalyst in the use of permanent paper in government, gave testimony of continued support of initiatives for use of permanent paper by the publishing and library community, reported on the evolution of promising technologies and national and international permanent paper standards. He concluded that efforts to encourage domestic publishers to use permanent paper must continue, and that the message of paper permanence must be brought to more offshore publishers.

Members of the Permanent Paper Task Force were awarded certificates by Dr. Lindberg in recognition of their services in encouraging the use of acid-free paper for biomedical publications. Certificates of appreciation were also presented to Lewis H. Brown for lifelong commitment to promoting the virtues of acid-free paper in the paper industry, to Robert W. Frase for far-ranging contributions in raising the awareness of libraries, governments, and the general public about the urgency and benefits of acid-free paper use, and to the National Information Standards Organization for leadership in guiding the process of uniform acceptance and dissemination of archival and information products and processes.

Representative George E. Brown, Jr., acknowledged in his summary address the many library, author, and print organizations that have joined the permanent paper thrust. He recalled the history of his own interest and involvement with a variety of preservation technologies, all potentially necessary as a part of a formidable and costly preservation undertaking extending over many years. "The best hope for confining its dimensions would be a firm national commitment to using permanent paper," he said. "With this singular preventive policy the job of preservation becomes measurable instead of expanding exponentially."

Joe Glazer, a leading interpreter of American life through political and social commentary in song and story, entertained the audience with songs on paper themes, among them a lament on the impermanence of an "Acid Paper Moon" and a paean to "Sweet Alkaline." The audience also heard a three-minute taped segment of the October 19, 1991, news broadcast by Paul Harvey on the ABC radio network. In it he described the problem of acidic paper, reported NLM's encouragement of permanent paper use, and recognized the contributions of Dr. Lois DeBakey, the Permanent Paper Task Force Co-chair and former NLM regent. The radio network reports that 23,400,000 listeners tune in to Mr. Harvey's program.

Table 1
Indexed Journal Titles at NLM on Acid-Free Paper, With and Without the Notice
Titles on Acid-Free Titles with Notice
  Number Percent Number Percent

1991 1,462 48 738 24
1990 994 34 667 23
1989 604 21 462 16
1988 326 12 28 1
1987 108 4 0 0

*The percentage of journal titles is taken from a baseline of Index Medicus journal titles that has been increasing over the years: in 1987 the total was 2,784 and in 1991 it was 3,050.

% of Index Medicus Titles (n=3050) Known to be Printed on Acid-free Paper


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