The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 6

"Natural" Cold Storage

The Polar regions have always seemed to be ideal for storage of otherwise doomed acid books, because they offer an environment that seemed to be ideal in terms of temperature and humidity. Gordon Williams, in a report commissioned by the library community, proposed solving the brittle book problem in the 1960s or 70s by storing one copy of each in Greenland, and sending out microfilm copies to people who wanted to read them; and in April 1985 an imaginative story by Norman Stevens called "The Man Who Saved Books" (Abbey Newsletter) described how a rich booklover rescued old library books from the recyclers and sent them to Antarctica, where his business held a lot of land; subsequently, in the year 2069, a world war destroyed all the other books in the world, but the books in Antarctica survived and made it possible for survivors to rebuild civilization

There was one case involving a real book that was left behind by Scott in Granite Harbor, Cape Geology, in 1913, discovered there in 1959, and tested against two copies from the secondhand market in the early sixties by F. Lyth Hudson and C.J. Edwards of the Faculty of Technology, University of Manchester. The Antarctic book was found to be significantly brighter than the other copies, and stronger in several respects, though the pH was virtually the same (4.20). Results were published in Paper Technology 7(1), 27-28, 1966, and reprinted in the Abbey Newsletter, Oct. 1987, v.11 #7, p. 109.

There is another instance of cold storage in the far north: The Norwegian national library has an underground storage vault for books under a mountain; but the vault has to be dehumidified constantly because the natural humidity there is close to 100%.

Australian conservators have a long-term involvement with maintaining explorers' huts in the Antarctic. A recent published description of conservation problems there should puncture our dreams of effortless preservation by natural cold storage, while drawing our attention to new and unexpected problems in this polar region and the ingenious solutions found to some of them:

"The Wilkes Hut Project, Antarctica," by Wallace R. Ambrose and Ian M. Godfrey. AICCM National Newsletter No. 69, Dec. 1998, p. 1, 3-5. (aiccm=Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material.)

The Wilkes Station huts, now 42 years old and unused for the last 30 years, have problems involving water, corrosion, mold and other biological agents, formation of solid ice in the walls or sometimes filling the whole hut, and, in sealed buildings, high humidity. In addition, strong winds carrying ice particles and snow can abrade anything they strike. Since the average relative humidity at the Wilkes Station is 78%, reliance is placed on encouraging air movement without admitting wind-blown snow and ice. Structural modifications (an outer skin of thin wood, set out from the original walls) were made to one small hut and results are being monitored. They are supposed to allow air movement through the interior and minimize abrasion from ice particles and intrusion of snow. (For a copy of this article or of the newsletter, contact AICCM Inc., GPO Box 1638, Canberra ACT 22601, Australia.)

In the same issue is a half-page report of a seminar, called by the Australian Associated Press Foundation, to discuss issues of conservation of Mawson's Huts in Antarctica. David Grattan, who was in Australia for ICOM, was there and proposed having another conference on conservation of historic sites in polar regions, just before or just after an international conference like IIC. Janet Hughes of the National Museum of Australia would like to have readers' views and suggestions sent to her. Her fax is +61 2 6208 5299; e-mail

Note: This article appeared as above in the printed version of v.22 # 6; however, there is a correction to be made. Gordon Williams is said to have proposed storing one copy of each deteriorating book in Greenland. Actually, he proposed a "central preservation agency" within the U.S., which would be federally funded. This agency would have selected one copy of each significant book, and preserved these books by spray deacidification and cold storage in a central depository. (He assumed that books in research library collections have already been selected for their importance, so it was not necessary to select further.) The preserved books were to be listed in a published register, and microfilm copies made when they were requested for use. The microfilm copies could be made up ahead of time, as far as possible. Local preservation was also to be encouraged, with on-demand microfilms made by the central preservation agency for the local collections.

The reference for Williams' report is: The Preservation of Deteriorating Books: An Examination of the Problem with Recommendations for a Solution. Report of the ARL Committee on the Preservation of Research Library Materials, Prepared for the Committee by Gordon Williams. September 1964. 37 pp.

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