The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 6-7
Dec 1995


NARA Advises Federal Agencies on Selecting Long-Lived Paper

On September 8, the National Archives and Records Administration issued NARA Bulletin No. 95-7, on the subject of procurement of writing, copying, and printing papers for Federal records--really a guide for implementation of P.L. 101-423, the permanent paper law that was passed in 1990. Such a guide is certainly needed, because there are many hidden obstacles on the road to consistent and economical implementation of a permanent paper policy.

The NARA bulletin is reprinted here in full, but without the attached lists of papers.

1. Purpose. This bulletin advises agencies to procure permanent and alkaline paper grades routinely to create all Federal records. This recommendation complies with Public Law (Pub.L.) 101-423, Executive Order (E.O.) 12873, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance. Information on cost and availability of paper grades is also provided.

2. Expiration. This bulletin expires September 30, 1997.

3. Background.

a. Papers used for most documents and publications since the mid-nineteenth century were highly acidic. The acid in these papers greatly accelerates their deterioration and is a principal threat to our documentary heritage. In the past, the cost of acid-free papers was generally prohibitive. In recent years, the pursuit of inexpensive papermaking techniques has resulted in an increasing replacement of acidic pulps with more economical alkaline pulps. Fortunately, the alkaline process also extends paper life by many decades.

b. Public Law 101-423, A Joint Resolution to Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers, establishes as the policy of the United States that Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid-free permanent papers. The Joint Resolution further recommends that Federal agencies require the use of acid-free permanent paper for publications of enduring value produced by the Government Printing Office or by Federal grant or contract, using the specifications for such paper established by the Joint Committee on Printing; and that agencies require the use of archival quality acid-free papers for permanently valuable Federal records and confer with NARA on the requirements for paper quality.

c. Executive Order 12873, "Federal Recycling, Acquisition, and Use of Environmentally Preferable Products and Services," section 504, and EPA's Recovered Materials Advisory Notice (60FR21386) establishes minimum percentages for recovered waste and post-consumer waste for printing and writing papers. Although many permanent and alkaline papers contain a significant percentage of recycled material, most do not meet the percentages specified by the E.O. and EPA's guidance. However, sections 502(2) and 504(1) of the E.O. authorize agencies to select papers that do not meet content percentages when available items fail to meet reasonable performance standards.

4. Definitions.

a. Alkaline paper. Paper that will last for at least one-hundred years under normal use and storage conditions. Alkaline paper grades are groundwood-free with a minimum pH of 7 and an alkaline reserve of 2% or more.

b. Generic paper. Paper without a specified pH or alkaline reserve. Longevity of generic paper varies and is uncertain. Many last for 50 to 100 years.

c. Permanent paper. Paper that will last for several hundred years without significant deterioration under normal use and storage conditions. Permanent paper grades are groundwood-free with a pH of 7.5 or above, an alkaline reserve of 2% or more, and other strength or performance properties that guarantee the use and retention of records generated on this paper for a maximum period of time.

5. Agency action.

a. Agency heads should direct records officers and officials who administer procurement, printing, and supply distribution to jointly develop policy and procedures to procure and use permanent and alkaline papers for both permanent and temporary Federal records. Copies of this bulletin are being distributed to agency records, printing, and procurement officials.

b. Because it is difficult to distinguish between permanent, alkaline, and generic papers, or to determine at the moment of creation how long a document will be maintained, agencies may choose to stock only one type of paper grade in individual office units (or agency-wide) for routine use in photocopiers, laser printers, telefacsimile equipment, etc.

(1) Permanent paper is recommended for routine use in office units that create and file a high proportion of long-term and permanent records.

(2) Alkaline paper is recommended for routine use throughout agencies for all documents.

c. Publications intended for long-term use in a paper format by many recipients, such as those that are placed in multiple Federal, State, and local government depositories' core collections in libraries and offices, should be created on permanent or alkaline paper. Generic paper is suitable for mass publications such as press releases and telephone directories; however, if the record set of a publication has long-term value, a file copy should be created by (1) photocopying onto alkaline or permanent paper, (2) maintaining an electronic version, or (3) creating a microform version from the paper or from Computer Output Microform (COM).

d. NARA also suggests the following techniques to reduce paper consumption and/or waste:

(1) Employ electronic systems to create, distribute, and maintain documents in accordance with 36 CFR part 1234.

(2) When paper is the selected format for Federal records:

- Make two-sided copies.

- Use letter-size instead of legal-size paper.

- Use envelopes without plastic windows and self-adhesive glue. Adhesives and plastics cannot readily be recycled with paper.

6. Cost and availability of paper for Federal records.

a. In recent years, the cost of permanent paper was two to four times more than generic paper and the cost of alkaline paper was one-third more than generic paper. However, a recent survey showed only a 5% difference between comparable permanent, alkaline, and generic xerographic paper grades with the permanent paper grade costing the least. Agencies should, on a continuing basis, check and compare prices. If, at a given time, there is a significant cost difference between permanent, alkaline, and generic paper grades, NARA will work with agencies to identify specific series of permanently valuable records that can be created on permanent paper without excessive cost.

b. Unless authorized by the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP), Federal departments, establishments and services in the District of Columbia must procure blank paper, including writing, copying, and printing papers through GPO in accordance with 44 U.S.C. 1121. Locations outside of the Washington metropolitan area should procure paper through normal supply channels such as the Government Printing Office (GPO) in accordance with the Federal Information Resources Management Regulation (FIRMR) bulletin B-4.

c. Attached is a complete list of all JCP specified alkaline and permanent paper grades, including GSA National Stock Numbers (NSN) when available. The JCP standard specifications are available in the "Government Paper Specification Standards, No. 10" on a subscription basis through the Superintendent of Documents. For purchases and further information, customers may contact GPO's Chief, Paper and Materials Control Section at 202-512-0208, FAX 202-512-1569 and GSA's Procurement and Contracting Office at 212-264-3252, FAX 212-264-4920.

7. NARA assistance. Records officers are encouraged to contact their designated NARA appraisal archivists for assistance in selecting the appropriate paper for agency record series. Questions may also be directed to the NARA Office of Records Administration, Agency Services Division at 301-713-6677, FAX 301-713-6850, TDD 301-713-6760.

John W. Carlin
Archivist of the United States

(From the Oct. 1995 Alkaline Paper Advocate)

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