The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 24, Number 3


International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Archival and Library Materials [Proceedings]. Erice, 22-29 April 1996. Edited by Carlo Federici and Paola F. Munafò, with the assistance of Daniela Costantini. Palermo: G.B. Palumbo on behalf of Regione Siciliana, Assessorato Regionale dei Beni Culturali e Ambientali e della Pubblica Istruzione, 1999. 2 v. [994 pp.] ©Istituto centrale per la patologia del libro, [and] Assessorato dei Beni Culturali, Ambientali e P. I della Regione Siciliana, Biblioteca Centrale della Regione Siciliana. 200,000 Lira or 103.29 Euros. The address of the printer/publisher is not given, but ICPL will probably be able to provide payment information for people who want to buy copies: Istituto Centrale per la Patologia del Libro [ICPL], Via Milano 76, 00184 ROMA, Italy (tel. 39 06 48 291 233-4; fax 39 06 48 149 68; e-mail

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

Nearly all of the 70 or so papers given at this conference are printed here in English. About seven of them were delivered in Italian, and had to be translated for publication. All are provided with an abstract, and are edited with care (including all the color close-up photographs, graphs, formulas, tables, notes, bibliographies, and photomicrographs), printed on permanent paper in an attractive typeface, bound in good black cloth and covered with an illustrated book jacket.

This conference, held in the picturesque village of Erice, perched on a more or less flat mountain top near Palermo, is the second one offered by the ICPL at that location. (The first one was in September 1992: "Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques." The proceedings were published in two heavy paperback volumes, and most papers were in French, the language of codicology. The illustrations included some very good color photographs. The set cost $243. ISBN: 357-882100650/6.)

There were ten sessions in this 1996 conference on the following topics: international cooperation, training, architectural and environmental problems, mold, ephemera, non-invasive conservation, history of materials and techniques, scientific conservation research, electronic records, and new materials and techniques. Speakers came from Italy, Britain, Canada, France, the U.S., Cuba, Russia, Spain, Poland, South Africa, Slovenia, Greece, Germany, and The Netherlands. Some papers had been published or read at conferences previously, but others were new material. Among the new and significant papers were:

Barclay Ogden's "Conservation Needs Assessment for Institutional Planning and Multi-institutional Cooperation"

"European School for Specialist Training for Conservators-Restorers of Book Materials," by Assunta di Febo, Maria Lilli di Franco and Rossana Rotili

Tom Albro's "A Delicate Balance: Conservation Treatment and the Demands of a Modern Research Library," in which he describes a trend for conservators to gradually become preservation specialists with administrative duties, in response to institutional needs.

"The Design and Operation of Off-site Storage Facilities in Support of Preservation Programs," by Barbara Graham, Curtis Kendrick and Joseph Urtz. Harvard's new remote storage facility had been described at a NARA conference a few years earlier, but never described in the conservation literature. (NARA does not publish proceedings of its conferences.)

"Express-Method for Micromycetes Viability Determination: An Application for Libraries," by Maria B. Dmitrieva. A test for viability of fungi that can be performed in minutes in a lab. The living molds turn bright red. This is a modification of an existing method.

"Biodeterioration Studies on Parchment and Leather Attacked by Bacteria in the Commonwealth of Socialist States," by Julia P. Petushkova and Robert J. Koestler. A long, technical report of a large study on the effectiveness of different bactericidal methods, including gamma radiation and the use of Preventol R-80 (a quaternary ammonium compound) and Catamin AB, a QAC agent widely used in Russia. Methods were tried on 30 or so old leathers or parchments from the ninth century onward. Four Bacillus species were used for testing. Minimal, non-destructive, treatment levels were determined and a maximum of 65% RH recommended for storage.

Sauvegarde des collections du patrimoine: La lutte contre les détériorations biologiques (Preservation of Heritage Collections: The Struggle Against Biological Deterioration), by Françoise Flieder and Christine Capderou. CNRS Editions, Paris, 1999. 256 pages.

Reviewed by Karen Potje

Flieder and Capderou have set out to provide practical information on how to combat the agents of biological deterioration—bacteria, fungi, insects, and vertebrate pests—in museums, archives and libraries. The book is divided into four parts:

  1. The biological agents of deterioration and their effects on organic materials
  2. Prevention of the biological agents of deterioration
  3. Treatments to disinfect and to eradicate mold
  4. Natural and accidental disasters

Part 1 begins with a chapter describing the morphology, reproduction, growth and classification of the agents of deterioration. Even for those who don't read French, this chapter is worth looking at for its fine photographs and illustrations of fungi and insects. There is a useful chart listing commonly found fungi and the materials they attack. Lengthy descriptions of bacteria, fungi and insects are followed by only two short paragraphs on vertebrate pests. Those looking for advice to combat rodents, bats and birds would do better to look to another source, since vertebrates get only about two pages in total throughout the book.

Chapter 2 describes detection methods such as air sampling for fungi, and traps and mechanical, acoustic and x-ray detectors for insects. Paper conservators will be interested in the paragraphs on foxing and its origins.

Chapter 3 outlines how the chemistry and structure of materials of vegetable and animal origin and of polymers is related to their various degrees of vulnerability to biological attack.

Part 2, "Preventive Measures Against Biological Agents," begins with Chapter 4, which details a long list of precautions to be observed in building design, construction and maintenance in order to prevent conditions which favor the proliferation of micro-organisms and insects.

In Chapter 5, which describes appropriate vault furnishings and storage arrangements, only a few points are linked directly to the problem of biological deterioration. Several pages are devoted to the harmful vapors which may be emitted by badly chosen construction materials and coatings. Although this information is useful, it illustrates the authors' occasional tendency to stray beyond their intended subject matter. Chapter 5 also touches on the use of silica gel to control relative humidity within exhibition and storage cases.

Part 2 ends with Chapter 6, which provides a wealth of technical information on how to achieve appropriate conditions of temperature, relative humidity, air cleanliness, and air circulation.

Part 3, on "Treatments to Disinfect and to Eradicate Mold," begins with Chapter 7, a surprisingly abbreviated discussion of a complex topic—how to kill fungi, insects and rodents infesting building spaces.

In Chapter 8, "Preventive Treatment of Collections," the authors state that there exists no appropriate chemical treatment to prevent fungi in collections, and recommend instead strict temperature and relative humidity control. In discussing preventive treatments against insects they list available chemical treatments one by one, and describe why almost all are inappropriate due to their toxicity to humans and to collections. The authors consider pyrethrins and pyrethroids, silica gel and diatomaceous earth to be safe preventive treatments against insects and give tentative approval to Vapona strips (Dichlorvos), as long as they are used with extreme caution.

For the reader who wants to know "What do I do with infested or contaminated collections?" everything has been leading up to Chapter 9 on "Curative Treatments." This is the longest, densest, most interesting and most frustrating chapter. It begins with a discussion of mixed treatments (fungicidal, bactericidal and insecticidal), where an important difference between French and North American attitudes becomes clear.

Flieder and Capderou are proponents of ethylene oxide as the only chemical which is not only an effective insecticide and bactericide, but will also kill fungi. They state that ethylene oxide has been saving collections from destruction since the Florence Flood and, with no other mass treatment against spores on the horizon, they regret that it is being abandoned due to its toxicity. American exposure limits are much more strict than French limits (overly strict, the authors imply). The four-page discussion of safe use of ethylene oxide will not prove very useful to readers in the United States, Canada, or some European countries, where ethylene oxide has not been used to treat cultural property for many years.

This section on mixed treatments continues with a description of physical methods to kill fungi, bacteria and insects. Tests and treatments using electromagnetic and beta radiation are described. Among these, microwave radiation shows the most promise as both an insecticidal and a fungicidal treatment for documents. Unfortunately (and unlike ethylene oxide), microwaves cannot be used for mass treatment.

Chapter 9 goes on to discuss one strictly fungicidal chemical, formaldehyde, which is rejected on the basis of its reactivity with organic materials. Surprisingly, there is not a word about simply removing fungi from contaminated material: killing fungi, not removing it, is the focus. Surprising, too, is the absence of information on the safety of personnel working with moldy collections, a subject that is dear to the hearts of North American conservators.

Chapter 9 ends with a discussion of insecticidal treatments. The authors wisely reject chemical methods due to their toxicity, and describe in detail the use of modified atmospheres, freezing and heat.

In Part 4, "Natural and Accidental Disasters," the last two chapters of the book, look at fire detection and suppression and floods. The authors cite many case studies where objects were rescued from floods (including documents salvaged from the Titanic in 1985) and, after freeze-drying, were chemically disinfected—a practice they recommend.

Readers of Sauvegarde des collections du Patrimoine: La lutte contre les détériorations biologiques will find this book useful for the wealth of information it offers on preventive conservation, and thought-provoking for some of its opinions on curative treatments against the biological agents of deterioration.

Karen Potje
Head, Conservation/Preservation
Canadian Centre for Architecture
1920, rue Baile
Montreal, Quebec
Canada H3H 2S6

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