William James Barrow: A Biographical Study of His Formative Years and His Role in the History of Library and Archives Conservation From 1931 to 1941

Sally Roggia

Advisor: Paul N. Banks
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Library Science in the Graduate School of Library Service

© 1999 Sally Roggia All Rights Reserved


William James Barrow: a Biographical Study of His Formative Years and His Role in the History of Library and Archives Conservation From 1931 to 1941

The early life and career of William James Barrow is examined. Contrary to established belief and other histories of the conservation field that place his significance with his chemical research done in the 1950s and 1960s, this study shows that the period between 1931 and 1941 saw his most significant contribution to the development of the field of library and archives conservation. Barrow began his career as a crafts-person in document restoration. Even though he was from the upper levels of Virginia society he had little formal education when he began to study the complex field of paper chemistry to do product testing of his restoration products. Barrow learned through tutors, by doing. He questioned and worked closely with professional paper chemists from the National Bureau of Standards and the National Printing Office. Barrow added the process of alkalization of acid paper, already documented in the literature on paper chemistry, to his paper restoration work. During his life-long promotion of his restoration method, lamination of alkalized documents using cellulose acetate foil and tissue, he popularized both the methods of lamination and alkalization of acid paper. He thereby introduced the concept of prevention of paper deterioration caused by acid hydrolysis through the alkalization of acidic paper. Barrow affected the entire field of document restoration by introducing librarians, archivists, and other restorers to chemical means of controlling deterioration. in the later part of his life, Barrow and others promoted his claims that he was the discoverer of the dynamics of acid deterioration of paper and the chemical means of alkalization to neutralize and therefore prevent further deterioration of the originally acid paper. This study demonstrates that Barrow's most important contribution was his application and popularization of existing chemical research, rather than his own inventions or original research, that establishes Barrow as important in the history of library and archives conservation.


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