The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 2
Mar 1987


Scientific American & Preservation of Historical Records

The January 1987 issue of the Scientific American, on page 59-60, carried the story of the National Research Council's report, Preservation of Historical Records (AN, Feb. 1987, p. 11). There was even a color picture of an old, beat-up naval pensioner's record, an example of the frequently-handled records that the National Archives hopes to copy onto optical disks. in fact, this picture illustrated the news angle of their story: While the National Research Council's committee had been writing its report, the Archives was launching a two-year, $1-million pilot project to store 1.5 million pension records on optical disk. Peter Z. Adelstein, Chair of the NRC committee, says he was never told of this project. Frank G. Burke, acting head of the National Archives, was generally pleased with the report, but "a little disappointed" by the committee' s dismissal of all electronic techniques for archival storage of information. Its report rejects all storage media but paper and microfilm, not because other media are chemically unstable, but because the hardware and software needed for reading them become obsolete so quickly.

A Champion in Congress

Patrick Williams, a 5th-term Democrat from a western district of Montana and a senior member of the House Budget Committee, will be holding a hearing March 3 on the topic of brittle books, in his function as Chair of the House Committee on Postsecondary Education. Warren Haas, Peter Sparks and other experts will be there to testify. By the tine this Newsletter is delivered to the readers, the hearing will be over, but information on future hearings on this or any other subject nay be had by calling 202/225-1772, the Legislative Status Office. This hearing is open, and subsequent ones on this subject are likely to be open too: that is, the public is invited. The written hearing record will be available in August or September. A copy can be had by calling 202/224-3121 and asking for Congressman Williams' office, then asking the aide for the record; or by writing to Patrick Williams, Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, 617 House Annex 1, Washington, DC 20515, in 6 months.

NCLIS Turns its Attention to Preservation

According to the National Preservation Program Office, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science is including the "preservation of knowledge" as a major thrust of its program on Democracy in Fiscal Year 1988. The budget request for FY88 is $750,000; a significant portion of this amount will be spent for staff time to promote the concept of preservation. Contact Vivian Arterbery, Director; or Sarah Bishop, Deputy Director, both at 202/382-0840. Their address is: GSA Building, Suite 3122, 7th and D St., S.W., Washington, DC 20024.

NMA Dies; IMS Revises Priorities

The National Museum Act (whose name also applies to the program it established) has helped put conservation students through school, even when they were studying library (not museum) conservation. This year Congress refused to appropriate funds for it. The authorization for NMA has been blocked on the House side for a number of years. This means that the Act will be phased out, according to Gil Brown, Executive Director of the AIC. Funds that would have gone to NMA have been redirected to the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution and to INS for training projects.

The Institute for Museum Services (INS) has announced new priorities for funding. Director Lois Burke Shepard says that despite its name, it is not strictly a museum funding agency, nor an institute, nor a service organization. [One is reminded of the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.] It continues to fund projects that include library and archival materials. Its priorities are 1) to encourage organizations to apply for conservation survey funds, 2) implementation of environmental controls, 3) projects for conservation training and staff, 4) projects to conduct research in conservation and conservation techniques, and 5) treatment of materials and objects. The INS is at: Old Post Office Building, Room 624, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20506 (202/786-0536).

CCI Reviewing and Collecting 36,000 AATA Records

AATA's database of 36,000 references, published since 1955 ,make up most of the Conservation Information Network. Since 1984, AATA (the Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts) has been published by the Getty Conservation Institute. In order to interfile its references with others in the database, CCI has to review their formats and terminologies, and set up standards for new entries and abstracts. Greater effort is being made to collect the literature cited. Publications will be made available through the CCI Library whenever possible. Coverage of the literature published in different regions of the world will be improved. Volunteer abstractors are still needed. Contact Jessica Brown, AATA Managing Director, CCI, 4503 Glencoe Ave., Marina del Rey, CA 90292-6537 (213/822-2299).


The Cooperstown Art Conservation Program will relocate in September of 1987. The new address will be: Rockwell Hall, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY 14222.

The addresses of the two Japanese newsletters in the front page story of the last issue were inadvertently omitted. They are:

CAP: do Toru Kibe
3-1-1-306, Sendagi
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
113 Japan

Codex Newsletter: c/o Koji Okamoto
2-27-29-105, Tagara
Nerima-ku, Tokyo, 176

Mr. Okamoto writes that Per Laursen is in Tokyo at the invitation of Mr. Masuda, to discuss a newly designed leafcasting machine that is destined for the restoration of Japanese paper (Washi). The Group Codex asked him to give a workshop on restoration of historical bindings. Mr. Masuda is a member of IIC.

Getty's Conservation Information Network Described

The CCI Newsletter for Winter 1987 has a fairly complete description of the features that are being built into the Getty Conservation Institute's international computer network, in collaboration with ICCROM, National Museums of Canada, Canadian Conservation Institute, ICOMOS, the Conservation Analytical Lab and other major conservation organizations. The network has three parts: a bibliographic database for finding references, a materials database for learning about particular materials, and an electronic mail system. The two databases now contain 60,000 and 1,000 records respectively and are growing as other institutions join the network. the CCI Library is collecting the publications cited in the bibliographic database for use by conservation professionals. In May, the Network will be released to North American users in a read-only format in conjunction with the computer workshop in Vancouver. Individuals as well as institutions will be able to subscribe, for a price: it must eventually be self-supporting. For information contact John Perkins, Documentation Projects Coordinator, CCI, 4503 Glencoe Ave., Marina del Rey, CA 90292-6537.

CCI Appoints International Disaster Committee

Following an exploratory meeting in October 1985, the Getty Conservation Institute has appointed a Disaster Planning Steering Committee. The Committee, which met for the first tine in Los Angeles on 30 June and 1 July, 1986, is international and interdisciplinary, with wide experience of major natural disasters as well as those affecting individual cultural institutions. Two long-term objectives are to establish communication between the numerous cultural, technical and governmental agencies that are involved in or may assist in disaster planning, mitigation or response; and to sensitize them to the special conservation needs of cultural property. [From the December IIC-CG Newsletter.]

Of the 11 members listed, only Norbert Baer seems to have experience with libraries or archives. Most of them seem to have a museum or monument conservation background.

Drawers Used to Exhibit Light-Sensitive Books

For the opening of a new building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a huge exhibit was planned, which included light-sensitive, unframed works of art on paper and books. Sharon Blank and Catherine McLean of the LACMA reported in WAAC in January on the unusual techniques used for displaying these materials: "Cabinets were constructed, each with 8" deep drawers covered with plexiglass. Books were secured to rag board with Mylar and the rag board was fastened into the drawer with Velcro 'buttons.' for viewing, the visitor is instructed to gently open the drawers one at a time. This method was used successfully for a selection from Matisse's JAZZ series (1947) and several Russian avante-garde books, dating from 1913-1936 that were printed on poor quality wood pulp paper."

A New Place to Have Brittle Books Filmed

The Mid-Atlantic Preservation Service (MAPS) opened about a month ago at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania with funding from Exxon to do archival microfilming for research libraries. This is the same service that was called the Mid-Atlantic States Cooperative Preservation Service and was located in Princeton (AN 1986, p. 52). Since its move, it has hit the ground running. Six staff have been hired and two cameras put to work under interim Director C. Lee Jones. Work is pouring in. A new off-campus facility will be ready in March, with 3200 square feet of space and five cameras. Soon it will go to two shifts a day, and is expected to become self-sustaining.

This center addresses a pent-up need for archival microfilming facilities. With 3.3 million books to film (AN 1986, p. 79), and with standards for archival manufacture, processing and storage of masters that cannot be met reliably by commercial facilities, and with all institutional facilities operating at capacity, something had to be done, and this is it. It would not be feasible to expand capacity in a decentralized way, by encouraging more libraries to open their own microfilming facilities, because a) it is expensive and tricky to set up an archival filming facility, with good control of electrical power supply, water quality and so on, and recruitment of skilled camera operators and maintenance people; b) most preservation programs do not have staff with the experience and skill needed to monitor work done commercially and assure that it meets archival standards. Neither can existing facilities be expanded significantly, because of space and personnel limitations.

Actually, the center will do work for any library or archive, but it will not specialize in rare or very fragile materials, which should be sent to a conservation center that has filming capability. It follows the RLG standards, which are simply a compilation of appropriate standards from all sources.

Northwestern University Receives $1.25 Million

As part of an anonymous $5 million gift, most of which was for the Deering Library, Northwestern received $1.25 million for the Library Preservation Fund, which will enable the Library to acquire specialized equipment and adequate binding and conservation supplies, and to hire skilled professional conservation staff.

CCI to Study Volatile Emissions

Many substances give off harmful gases, which can accumulate in an enclosed space or at close range. The "acid migration" from one page to another, documented by William J. Barrow, is an example of this phenomenon at work. The gases emitted are not always acidic, though acids may be among the end products of the reactions they cause.

It is especially important, for institutions that exhibit valuable books and documents, or that have an encapsulation or enclosure program, to know what these substances are, because paper-based materials are among the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, too few of these substances have been identified. Now the Canadian Conservation Institute is undertaking a study, according to the December IIC-CG Newsletter, to identify sources of corrosive volatile substances from storage, support and display case materials. The study addresses the needs of museums only, but many of the same materials are used in both kinds of institutions. Among the materials that have been suggested for study are the following: hot melt glues, animal glues, Plexiglas, polystyrene, polyurethane, polyethylene, PVA, PVC, Velcro, cardboards, silk and felt.

Student Theses to be Made Available Worldwide

A compilation of research needs in library and archival conservation, published in this newsletter in April 1981, included the following priorities:

  1. Testing of materials in conservation; quality control
  2. Effective and economical methods of mass treatment for paper-based materials
  3. Develop new procedures and methods
  4. More research in conservation science
  5. Establish relative importance of different causes of deterioration
  6. Research on testing methods and materials testing
  7. Develop workshop [i.e., treatment lab] analytical methods
  8. [Find] methods of preserving audio-visual materials and photocopies
  9. More applied research on the deterioration and preservation of materials [a priority named by four sources]
  10. Test and evaluate materials of current and potential use

Another 13 research priorities were identified at the 1976 Conference on a National Preservation Program, and published in the December 1981 issue of AN. The needs are strongly felt. Evidence of this can be found in the demand for access to the theses and dissertations produced by conservation students, which was verbalized at the 1984 meeting of the ICOM Committee for Conservation (AN 1984, p. 81). Now the logjam is broken: lists of student theses and dissertations have been, or will be, compiled for North America, Europe and the United Kingdom. It is not yet clear how they will be made available, though an obvious suggestion is to do it through AATA. To stay up to date on developments, one can write to, or get on the mailing list of, the ICOM Committee for Conservation Working Group on Training in Conservation and Restoration (c/o Conservation of Cultural Materials, Canberra College of Advanced Education, P.O. Box 1, Belconnen, ACT, 2616, Australia). The AIC and UKIC news letters are also covering this topic.

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