The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 4
Sep 1983


Library and Archives Conservation: 1980s and Beyond, by George Martin Cunha and Dorothy Grant Cunha. Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, NJ, 1983. 2 v. Vol. 1, 220 p.: $16.00. Vol. 2, 425 p.: $28.50. Set of 2 vols. $39.50.

Reviewed by Lois Olcott Price
Assistant Conservator, Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, Philadelphia

This book is composed of two volumes that update the Cunhas' previous two-volume publication of 1972, Conservation of Library Materials. The first volume of the current publication traces preservation trends in both management and treatment over the last decade while the second volume expands the bibliography published in 1972. Like the Cunhas' first bibliography, the current volume is thorough and well organized. It is a rather monumental addition to, rather than a revision of, their earlier work and utilizes the same categories and numbering system. Some of the entries are annotated. This bibliography is a valuable tool for anyone researching almost any aspect of library and archives conservation. The overview of the rapidly changing world of conservation provided by Volume I is a valuable update and provides heartening evidence of the growth of preservation awareness in the library and archival community. The brief sections are well footnoted and include references to appropriate material listed in the bibliography and appendices.

The first half of Volume I describes professional organizations of librarians, archivists, and related professionals at all levels and summarizes what they have done, are doing, and plan to do to further their preservation goals. These chapters include descriptions of various national, international, and regional studies of library and archival preservation needs that should serve as prototypes for future studies. They also discuss professional organizations that provide preservation information and training as well as those attempting to formulate long-term preservation policies that would have a major impact on binders, publishers, institutions, and fellow library and archival professionals. Chapter 4 discusses in greater detail some of the conservation training programs now available with particular emphasis on the Columbia Program for conservators end preservation administrators. The Cunhas also list several other sources of less intensive, less advanced training, ranging from brief introductory workshops to courses provided by library schools. They do not, unfortunately, clearly differentiate between the different types of training needed and offered for administrators, conservators, and conservation technicians or aides. In this they reflect the lack of clear definitions that currently afflict the entire preservation field.

The second half of Volume I addresses a variety of specific conservation issues and procedures. The Cunhas define the role of the professional conservator, regional centers, and mass treatments such as freeze stabilization and deacidification and then discuss in-house preventive conservation as an aspect of mass treatment and good management. This concept is the most important component in the growing preservation awareness described by the Cunhas--that the best and first conservation treatment an institution should provide is good housekeeping, a good environment, and good management. A separate chapter is devoted to disaster preparedness and response where the emphasis is again on good management.

The final chapter discusses in-house conservation treatments that the Cunhas feel can be done by volunteers and/or library personnel without the supervision of a trained conservator. This chapter is not intended to be a manual of techniques, although specific treatments and materials are recommended and the Appendix includes a how-to section. Many of the procedures discussed by the Cunhas can and should be done in-house by adequately trained conservation technicians or aides, but several, including washing, deacidification, and removal of pressure-sensitive tape require, in this reviewer's experience, a considerable amount of knowledge and judgement to recognize and avoid potential problems even when dealing with routine material, (This reviewer was appalled to find that "written documents," i.e. manuscripts, are considered routine material.) The rigid in-house discipline and technical instructions recommended by the authors cannot replace the supervision or readily available consultation of a trained conservator. There are simply too many materials that do not fall into nice neat categories, although their deviation may not be apparent until it is too late. It is also this reviewer's experience, after conducting surveys for a wide variety of libraries and archives, that very few institutions have professional personnel who can devote a significant amount of time to hands-on conservation. They can do far more for their collections in the time available to them by developing and implementing programs for environmental control, better housekeeping, proper shelving and handling, protective housing, preservation-oriented library binding, and staff and user preservation consciousness.

This book is an excellent guide to sources of information on particular preservation topics and a good introduction to the many-faceted world of library and archival conservation, but the Cunhas falter when they lose this focus and attempt to provide specific preservation and treatment recommendations which are sometimes simplistic and inadequate in this abbreviated format. Also, throughout the book, the Cunhas describe the many virtues and services offered by the institution George Cunha formerly directed. While their partiality is understandable, it is important to note that a variety of other conservators and institutions, especially regional centers, provide the same consulting, training and treatment services.

Unlike many introductory books, this one is neither dry nor dull. It expresses George Cunha's strong personal and sometimes controversial opinions about library and archival conservation with a proselytising fervor that has not dimmed over the many years he has been involved in the field.

The Preservation Challenge: A Guide to Conserving Library Materials, by Carolyn Clark Morrow with Gay Walker. Introduction by Pam Darling. Knowledge Industry Publications, White Plains and London, 1983. 231 pp. Soft cover $27.50, hard cover $34.50.

Reviewed by Gillian Boal
Assistant Book Conservator, Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover, MA.

The Preservation Challenge follows closely on Carolyn Clark Morrow's Conservation Treatment Procedures (1982), which was reviewed in the Abbey Newsletter of October 1982. Together they represent a substantial contribution to the mushrooming literature on general conservation practices.

In the Introduction Pamela Darling eloquently sets out the scope and urgency of the task facing the profession. She strikes an elegiac note, musing on the impermanence of all things. There is an echo of an old theme of Horace--Habent sus fata libelli, "Books meet their fates." She recalls the fire at the great library of Alexandria, the ancient world's symbolic counterpart to the Florentine flood. The tendency of everything to deteriorate is the melancholy backdrop to the "preservation challenge."

The two following chapters set the scene in detail. They address respectively the questions: I) what does the damage? and 2) what gets damaged? Librarians should not read Chapter 2 late at night. It is a grim parade of the causes of deterioration; the roll call of enemy agents includes light, heat, humidity, pollutants, fungi, insects, people (especially, of course, librarians and bookbinders), and, bringing up the rear, disasters. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that these agents often work together: thus, for example, humidity promotes the action of fungi and insects.

There is an irony in this growing crisis. The social and material conditions--industrialism and the new technologies--which gave rise to universal education, the public library movement and the huge expansion of academies, are responsible for the assault on library artifacts through their "by-products," especially the automobile and the industrial plant. All of us professionally involved in conservation have an interest in the fight for a less hazardous environment.

Chapter 3 contains a clear and demystifying overview, with illustrations, of the nature of library materials-- paper, skin, film, disc, tape--discussed in a historical framework. To many librarians whose awareness of the problems is vague and unsystematic, these chapters should really help bring the issues into sharper focus.

In the light of these facts, Morrow goes on to provide a framework for the development of preservation programs. By means of a flow chart, matrices and diagrams, she offers a series of organization protocols for libraries of varying size and function, ranging from a small college to a large research institution.

At this point Gay Walker contributes a chapter on the preservation of what is beginning to be called the "intellectual" content of collections, "intellectual" being contrasted somewhat awkwardly with "artifactual." This orthodox form/content distinction is in danger of being pressed too far; Gay Walker seems to fall into this trap when she says that "microfilming preserves the information," as if "intellectual" content somehow abides in a realm quite independent from, and indifferent to, its medium. In fact, the two are profoundly interlocked.

The great virtue of Walker's chapter is that she tackles the central question: namely, given finite time and resources, what is to be chosen for preservation? It is a pity that she treats this crucial decision as an exclusively "internal" matter concerning librarians, conservators and bibliographers. There is a tacit elitism lurking here. At the very least, where collections are in the public domain, there ought to be some gesture towards a more democratic process, so that the community is able to contribute to the decision.

Chapter 6 marks a shift from theory to practice. It contains a series of case studies illustrating the establishment of preservation programs at Dartmouth College, Rutgers University, the Indiana Historical Society, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Southern Illinois University, Johns Hopkins University, and the New York Public Library. Morrow extracts certain principles of good practice from a comparison of these existing programs--for example, all of the above have taken steps for disaster preparedness.

Further case studies follow concerning the treatment of rare and unique library materials. There are dramatic and illuminating accounts of particular treatments carried out by Laura Young, T.K. McClintock, Siegfried Rempel, Jean Gunner, Jane Greenfield, and Roger Bridges and Robert Wiest.

Chapter 8 describes the armamentarium available to librarians to "buy tine" for their collections--deacidification, cold storage, phased preservation and encapsulation. There is a useful section on the techniques of freezing and vacuum drying. To help the librarian who, having read thus far, is now asking the question, "How bad are things in my library?", the chapter ends with several "quantification studies," briefly outlining surveys carried out at the University of California, Stanford University, Yale, and the American Theological Library Association.

The book concludes with a descriptive list of the organs and agencies in the preservation field, plus an appendix of addresses. Throughout the text there are frequent bibliographical references, which appear by chapter as numerated endnotes (not "footnotes" as printed).

These references have been helpfully collated (with few errors and inconsistencies) in fuller form and alphabetically in a separate bibliography.

The Preservation Challenge should immediately establish itself as an invaluable guide to librarians. If all goes well, it should soon make itself outdated. It will surely deserve a new edition. Finally, what about this book, artifactually speaking? Will it last? Well, yes and no. It is printed on acid-free paper, but on the other hand it is "perfect" bound.

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