The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 10, Number 5
Oct 1986


Brittle Books: Reports of the Committee on Preservation and Access. Washington, DC: Council on Library Resources, 1986. 31 pp.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

The Committee on Preservation and Access is the group formed by the Council on Library Resources (CLR) at meetings sponsored by CLR, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Association of American Universities, and funded by Exxon (see story in the October 1984 issue of this Newsletter, p. 68). The first of these meetings, in December 1982, was called Forum I; the two subsequent meetings were Forum II and III. The people invited to these meetings did not form themselves into a committee until 1984, between Forums II and III. By now the committee has dissolved, and a Commission on Preservation and Access has taken its place.

The booklet does not give the names of the Commission members. It is vaguely worded, and the plot is hard to follow. In any case, the group has decided to head a national preservation plan, which will consist of microfilming brittle books. They want to film all brittle books worth saving, which according to a preliminary estimate is 3.3 million volumes (making only one copy of each title). They estimate the cost per book at $100, which is twice what most research libraries estimate as the cost of making one preservation microfilm. One of their first goals is to bring down the cost of microfilming books.

Although they also plan to make an hour-long film about preservation, and mention the need for an information service several times in the reports, they consistently use the word "preservation" as if it were synonymous with "micro-filming," and as if disaster planning, environmental control, binding and other treatments were either unrelated activities or not important enough to mention.

There is no place for commercial microfilming services in this plan. The Commission plans to improve the methods and enhance cooperation among libraries and research institutions, so that they will be able to handle those 3.3 million volumes. Among its eight goals or functions is that of establishing "the general conditions, policies, and procedures governing preservation [i.e., microfilming] work for the guidance of libraries, publishers, and other agencies interested in participating in the brittle books program.'' They expect this work to take 20 to 25 years, and to be funded principally by the universities after it gets going. They make no mention of other solutions that could well be used on some of those books: deacidification, strengthening, and promoting the use of permanent paper. Any one of these solutions would cost only 1/20 as much as microfilming, per volume. On the other hand, none of them produces a master from which other copies can be made, as microfilming does.

Although its methods and expectations seem naive sometimes, this group is addressing the right problem, and the organizations involved have attracted a realistic amount of start-up money (over $2 million). They are the right people too, if scholars and administrators of scholarly institutions are as well represented in the Commission as they were at the initial meeting, because scholars are the very people who will suffer the most if their books disappear.

Familiar names on the now-defunct 14-member Committee on Preservation and Access are: Margaret Child, formerly of the National Endowment for the Humanities, now of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and contributor to this Newsletter; Rutherford Rogers and David Stam, both of whom took part in the Planning Conference for a National Preservation Program at the Library of Congress in 1976 (AN, Dec. 1981, p. 67); Peter Sparks, Preservation Officer at the Library of Congress; and Robert Warner, former Archivist of the United States. Harold Cannon of NEH, also a contributor to this Newsletter (April and July 1985), was one of two observers.

The June newsletter of the Association of Research Libraries gives the names of the Commission members, who held their first meeting April 29. They serve as individuals, not as representatives of institutions:

Millicent Abell, University Librarian, Yale
Herbert Bailey, Director Emeritus, Princeton University Press
Billy Frye, President, Emory University
James Govan, University Librarian, University of North Carolina
Kenneth Gros Luis, Provost, Indiana University
Carole Huxley, Assistant Commissioner for Education of the State of New York
Sidney Verba, Director of Libraries, Harvard University
William Welsh, Deputy Librarian of Congress.

There is an Advisory Council to the Commission which met in March. It is made up of representatives of 19 organizations, including the Association of Research Libraries, and will hold its meetings at the Library of Congress.

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