The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 2
May 1983

Editor's Page


Apologies for listing the Newsletter's phone wrong in the December issue. It really is (212) 280-4014, and was listed properly in the March issue.

Renewal Method Successful

Last year, 25% of subscribers failed to renew by this time; this year, only 8%. Reminders were sent both years; what made the difference was the billing of all subscribers, rather than just the ones that requested or needed it. This method of billing in advance (three months is ideal) is recommended to professional organizations that have trouble collecting dues. Unpaid members would also have to be removed promptly from the mailing list, which takes a bit of work, but makes the system more effective.

Acid-Free Paper Used for 7/I

The March issue was printed on 40 lb. Ecusta Waylite, which is usually used for Bibles. It is acid-free and well buffered. The printer, Grass Roots Press, was able to print on this very lightweight paper all right, but found it would not work in the folding machine, so the whole edition was folded by hand. Ecusta does not offer SO or 60 lb. in any of its buffered papers.

Coming Soon

"A Response to the Morrow Review," by Jan Merrill-Oldham.

"Echizen Homestay," by Helen C. Frederick. An account of a working visit to a papermaking village in Japan during IPC 83.

What We Learned in School: a Letter From the Editor

Well, the second tiny class of graduates from Columbia's one-year Preservation Administration program has gone out into the world, leaving behind the part-timers, including me: I had to take a reduced schedule because of the Newsletter, sod won't be through until next Christmas, The conservator students are off doing summer internships, or preparing to do so.

This seems a good time to look back over the courses I took last winter, for the benefit of the people who have been asking me what the program was really like. First let me state my limitations. I can't describe the ordinary library courses that build toward a master's degree in library service, because I got my degree a long time ago and didn't have to take any of them. I also can't describe the "History of the Book" course, because I won't get that till next fall. But I've had all the other required courses for "PAs."

Paul Banks taught three courses:

Introductory Technology and Structure of Records Materials

Protection and Care of Records Materials

Preservation of Library and Archival Materials (the introductory course)

In these three courses I found the most answers to the questions I had brought with me in my mind, too numerous to list here. The introductory course contained a lot of familiar material, but was not at all boring; the other two gave more new material than I was able to absorb. I still have ambitions to finish the reading list. We toured several university buildings, catacombs and all, to see how the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems worked. We learned how to use environmental monitoring instruments and practiced on the Law Library, giving a team report with oral presentations, slides and graphs. (In all three of these classes, both conservator and PA students were enrolled.) We learned a lot about paper: the history of papermaking, paper testing, mending, sizing, laminating; characteristics and behavior. We also covered bookworms, preservation of historical photographs and cost-effectiveness of various programs and procedures. We had speakers and class lectures on a variety of topics:

planning new buildings, time capsules, mass deacidification, enclosures, preservation of sound recordings, Eastern methods of papermaking, adhesives, ink and ethics. We got to handle and examine samples of flax, nitrate film, acetate recordings and all kinds of Real Things.

Pam Darling had the five PAs in her course on Administration of Preservation Programs and four of us for the related field work class. She worked us pretty hard in realistic projects and assignments--very realistic!

A good part of the administration class was devoted in one way or another to ways of achieving goals in an organizational setting: effectiveness, in short. We did not practice on a real library, but on each other in simulated committee meetings and on an imaginary library called the East Overshoe University/Public Library, which had its own history, organizational charts and current problems laid out for us in deadpan prose for us by Pam Darling. Our assignments included setting up a mending cart, planning a small preservation library, writing a memo justifying a special environment for a collection of nonbook materials, and making up a selected list of serials to scan regularly for preservation information.

In our field work we each spent one day a week making ourselves useful in one of the cooperating libraries of the city. Each of us had our own project; mine was to describe and help systematize preservation decision-making for deteriorated books at New York University. Two valuable aspects of this course were the private consultations with the teacher at regular intervals and the biweekly meetings at which we all discussed our projects with each other.

Gary Frost gave a lab course just for PAs, in which we got to make four little models of historical binding structures: coptic, split thong, limp paper cased, and limp paper laced bindings. We had a group project, trying to improve the design of book drops, and individual projects (mine was a presentation on spot tests). The most challenging and humbling part of this course was the last assignment, a group project on deacidification with magnesium bicarbonate, measuring the effect of prerinse with alcohol and water (none), different solution strengths (the strongest greatly weakened the paper), and other variables. We tested the concentration of the solutions using the Taylor drop test and, using a pH meter, titrated the paper slurry to find the reserve alkalinity. The results were nothing you would want to publish, but the experience convinced me that if you want to deacidify, you have to know what you're doing, and that was worth the price of admission.

Terry Belanger taught Descriptive Bibliography I, my first contact with the world of bibliography. I was glad he was able to make it so meaningful and clear to nonspecialists, because it would have been easy to get lost, so far from my moorings in bookbinding. We learned a lot, partly because he worked us so hard. As a result, I can now collate a book using the bibliographers' secret symbols, and transcribe a title page pretty well. We made etchings, set lots of type by hand, and studied the history of book illustration, printing and binding (mostly decoration, not much structure). I think I am now closer to understanding what bibliographers mean when they tell binders not to destroy evidence.

Photoreproduction of Library Materials, my eighth and last class, covered the history of photography, cameras, copiers, microforms, equipment, processes, events and inventors. It was not very closely oriented to conservation, but there were topics within its scope that appealed to me, and I wrote my term paper on one: "The History of Consternation over Redox Blemishes" (in microfilm).

One subject that would have been useful, but was not taught, was survey methods, including some statistics. Preservation librarians often have to do some kind of survey as a guide to policy or justification of a program, but reliable results cannot be gotten by cookbook methods.

I did a little survey of my own, of PA positions advertised in the Abbey Newsletter last year. Half of the future employers wanted somebody to do bench work and administrative work in about equal proportions. The others, in retrospect, seem to have favored applicants with practical and technical backgrounds. Since the program does not teach bench skills to PAs, future applicants to the Columbia PA program may want to acquire their bench skills before coming, unless they have reason to believe that this peculiarity of the job market will not affect them to any great extent.

Ellen McCrady

The Abbey Newsletter: Bookbinding and Conservation is issued six times a year and has about 700 paid subscribers. New subscribers automatically receive all issues published in the current year, unless they request otherwise. All subscriptions expire on the last day of the year. To initiate or renew a subscription, send name, address, and a check for $20 (institutions: $25) to Abbey Newsletter, c/o School of Library Service, 516 Butler Library, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 (212/280-4014). The Newsletter is not part of Columbia University.

No paid ads are accepted, but any notice that is appropriate and has national news value will be printed if there is room for it. Written contributions and bits of news are welcome.

Other newsletters may freely reprint simple news announcements without attribution and without explicit permission. Signed contributions, however, may not be reprinted without permission.

Copyright 1983 Ellen McCrady ISSN 0276-8291

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