The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 5
Jul 1987

MARAC Highlights

MARAC, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, includes among its members the archivists from the major repositories in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, so going to one of its conferences is nearly as exciting as going to an SAA conference. They met May 7-9 in Baltimore, where the program included sessions on care and preservation of artifacts (Dan Riss and Don Cumberland), photographic preservation (Debbie Hess Norris and Constance McCabe), disaster preparedness (James Neal and Karl Niederer) and preservation of moving images (Susan Dalton, Alan Lewis and Paul Spehr).

Frank Evans, the plenary session speaker, who has been working for the International Council on Archives (ICA) for the last few years, described recent developments in archival training and preservation throughout the world and made an appeal for American archivists to help archivists from the lesser developed countries (LDCs). These archivists are truly isolated--no one to call on the phone to for advice, no place to write for free or cheap information that can be paid for in their own currency, no professional conferences affordably close. He urged the audience to send their spare publications on preservation and other topics to LDC archivists, perhaps choosing one to concentrate on, like cities choose "sister cities" in other countries. (Names and addresses of specific archives can be furnished from the Newsletter office, upon receipt of a self-addressed stamped envelope.)

Dan Riss and Don Cumberland had obviously spoken to groups like this on care of artifacts before, because they knew how to get across the important information without boring or terrifying their audience. (Dan Riss assured them that they all had artifacts--"Just think of it as stuff.") In the discussion period afterwards, the "Bally box" came up as a remarkably good way to provide environmental control, indoors or out, because of its efficient 4" of insulation. It can be assembled quickly by nonspecialists using only a wrench. For outdoor use, it requires only a little heating and air conditioning to keep the temperature and relative humidity even. Five publications were recommended The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, the CCI's Commercial Product Analytical Reports (available on request), The Unesco Manual of Museum Storage, the second edition of Garry Thomson's The Museum Environment, and the Padfield/Hopwood paper that was given at IIC in Washington, "Trouble in Store."

Debbie Hess Norris listed the fumigants that were safe to use with photographs: thymol, PDB, Vapona, ethylene oxide and methyl bromide. She described a hazard associated with washing or doing wet treatments: some photographs are water-soluble. They can dissolve in two seconds, or as much as 55 minutes later. The highest priority for treatment, she said, should be given to film with flaking layers, mold, tape, rubber cement and very brittle supports.

Karl Niederer of the New Jersey State Archives said that his agency provides around-the-clock disaster response for large and small government agencies in New Jersey. It was never specifically funded, and has no legal mandate. It just began when calls began coming in during a wet period beginning in 1978. Staff responded to calls and built up supplies needed for the work (hard hats, walkie talkies and so on). By the time the wet period was over, the precedent had been established. They have responded to 12 major disaster calls since 1978. Mr. Niederer said he didn't know of any other state with a service like this.

In the session on preservation of moving images, Susan Dalton said that we do not know whether videotape will last even as long as nitrate film, because it has not been around for very long. The American Film Institute (AFI) is working on a national moving image database comparable to the RLIN database for books. It will show who owns copies of each film, which copies are best, and which films have been preserved. The session ended with a pithy bit of advice: "If you like your film, don't put it on a projector."

Some information of borderline relevance that came out in discussion after the moving-image session was that videotapes are being used by two music repositories to make copies of old sound recordings that are too deteriorated to play any more.

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