Magazine article Information Today

Preservation Matters

Magazine article Information Today

Preservation Matters

Article excerpt

Preservation Matters

Preservation. It's one of the newest buzzword topics in libraries and at professional conferences and seminars. Now that the budgetary storms created by the introduction of CD-ROM based systems are beginning to abate, librarians are gearing up again to cope with requests for new and significant financial outlays from their preservation-minded colleagues. All agree that millions of dollars will be spent over the next decade to halt the continued disintegration of massive numbers of books held by our nation's private and public library agencies.

Preservation matters. We wrote about them last month, we wrote about them last year. The issue is a critical one. According to Patricia Battin, president of the Commission on Preservation and Access (CPA), of the 305 million volumes held by the members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), 25 to 30 percent of the collections, about 78 million books, are `brittle' and may only be saved if they are microfilmed. (ARL is a membership organization composed of approximately 100 of the country's largest research libraries.)

What's a `Brittle Book'?

Books that are deemed to be `brittle' are those composed of paper which has developed a substantially weakened molecular structure. The paper's troubling condition is brought about by acid hydrolysis or oxidation which has resulted from the combination of chemicals and wood pulp used in its manufacture. One test to determine if a book has reached the point of brittleness is simply to `dog ear' a corner (fold in down). If the page breaks, the book is deemed to be `embrittled.'

Even in spite of the work of the CPA which was formed in 1986 under initiatives of the Council on Library Resources, the prospects for saving those 78 million books are marginal Battin guestimates that the figure actually represents a fewer number of titles; approximately 10 million of the 78 million are `unique' titles in that a large percentage represent duplicate copies of single books jointly numbered in the research libraries' holdings. And Battin is bottom-line realistic in her proposal to save about only one third over a twenty-year period.

[In addition to the CPA's initiative over Brittle books, Battin and her colleagues have been meeting with the Association of American Publishers in an effort to promote the use of alkaline or neutral paper in book manufacturing. Battin also is promoting a program of mass deacidification, a project which the Library of Congress is pioneering that will have to be expanded for other libraries].

Yet in spite of the dire statistics, during the past decade the topic of preservation has received only bare minimum coverage in the library press. To be sure, the cause has been championed by only a relative handful of professionals. But today there are increasing indications that preservation matters are becoming the concern of an increasing number of individuals and organizations across the US.

"What should we save first???"

We recently received a mailing from the NYPL Friends of the Library inviting our membership. The mailing was headlined "What should we save first???" and described the efforts of NYPL to preserve the research collection from the `acidic time bomb' on its shelf.

"Right now, over one third, and possibly as much as one half of our collections are crumbling," noted Andrew Heiskell, Chairman of the Board. Noting that "Time is simply running, out, "Heiskell pointed to the acidic time bomb as well as unfiltered sunlight, dirt, dust, high heat and humidity, urban air pollution, insects, and a host of molds and fungi as well as unusually heavy use by several generations of readers that have "hastened the death of some books and other materials."

NYPL spent over $3 million in 1988 to conserve 1,170,000 items. It estimates that it costs $70 to microfilm a single volume.

RLG's Preservation Microfilming Project

In 1983 the Research Library Group (RLG) formed its cooperative Preservation Microfilming Project. …

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